OKLAHOMA CITY — State Superintendent Ryan Walters wants to penalize schools that have obscene materials in their libraries.
Walters is pushing for the State Board of Education to be able to downgrade the accreditation status of districts found to have books or other items containing what he describes as “pornographic materials” or “sexualized content.”
Walters made the announcement Friday after railing this week against Oklahoma City Public Schools for allegedly having in a high school library a book he described as “grossly inappropriate.” The district said the book was not part of its collection.
Walters is formally asking the State Board of Education to approve an administrative rule that would give the governing body more power to reprimand districts over their school library collections. This move comes amid a national Republican movement to ban certain books in schools.
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Under the proposed rule, districts would be required to submit annually to the State Department of Education a list of all books and other materials in their school libraries.
Districts would also be required to have a written policy for reviewing any library materials and responding to complaints regarding books or other items in their collections. Tulsa Public Schools and most other districts already have policies in place for addressing challenged school materials.
Walters defines “pornographic materials” nearly identically to the state’s legal definition of “obscene materials.”
“Pornographic materials” is defined as the following:
Depictions or descriptions of sexual content which are patently offensive as found by the average person applying contemporary community standards, considering the youngest age of students with access to the material.
Materials that, taken as a whole, have as the dominant theme an appeal to prurient interest in sex as found by the average person applying contemporary community standards.
A reasonable person would find the material or performance, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, educational, political or scientific purposes or value.
“Sexualized content” is defined as not strictly pornographic but otherwise containing excessive sexual material. State law already requires that school library materials be age appropriate and adhere to “community standards.”
On Tuesday, Walters posted a video criticizing Oklahoma City Public Schools after a right-wing social media account alleged that a graphic novel depicting sexual scenes was available at a district high school.
Oklahoma City Public Schools said the book in question, “Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human,” was not part of the high school’s physical or digital library.
In a series of tweets, the district said the book had been removed as part of an audit, but it did not specify the timing of the audit or when text was removed.
Oklahoma City Public Schools works closely with regional accreditation officers to ensure that the district is in compliance, said spokeswoman Crystal Raymond.
“It is important that we protect our students and we will continue working with the State Department of Education to ensure that we are providing an effective library media program to meet the instructional needs of our students and staff,” she said in a statement.
Walters said that when he was running for office, he heard numerous parents express concerns about graphic sexual material being available to their children, although he did not cite specific examples in his latest video posted to Twitter.
The administrative rule Walters proposed Friday shares some similarities to the rules adopted to carry out House Bill 1775, a law that banned the teaching of certain concepts on gender and race. Under the rules for HB 1775, the Board of Education can downgrade the accreditation status of districts that violate the law.