This week, the Wake County Board of Education approved a revision to its library policies that would require materials to not be “pervasively vulgar” and make “age” and “grade” appropriateness a higher concern.
The revised wording of Policy Code 3200, pertaining to the selection of instructional materials, stated that “Instructional materials should also be appropriate for the age, maturity, and grade-levels of the students, address a spectrum of learning styles, and not be pervasively vulgar.”
Additionally, responsibility for the selection of materials moves from only school-based staff, principal, and the area superintendent to also require collaboration with professional learning community teams, the school Media Technology Advisory Committee, and other school leadership.
As of now, the new standards on public school library books are already effective as part of Policy 3200’s revision adopted Tuesday. Further debates on Policy 3210, which pertains to parental inspection and objection to school materials, are yet to be discussed.
These changes come as formal complaints have been filed by parents in recent years about books covering race, gender, and sexuality. According to reporting from WUNC, over the past two years, there have been at least 189 book challenges across North Carolina’s 115 school districts. Two parents have sought criminal charges, including one case in New Hanover County where the local district attorney found that, while the challenged books could be considered offensive, they were protected under the First Amendment.
Wake County Board of Education member Wing Ng says that the new policy revisions do not come from any specific complaints, but rather as an attempt to better apply the recommended language policies from the North Carolina School Board Association to existing Wake County Public School regulations. Ng and board member Cheryl Caulfield objected to the new revisions, arguing that the words “pervasively vulgar” were not clear enough.
“We were hoping for even greater clarity of what ‘pervasively vulgar’ means,” said Ng.
Board member Lindsay Mahaffey said that one motive for the policy change was to ensure greater alignment with state statutes.
“While no specific complaint singularly inspired the policy changes, the feedback we received from various stakeholders played a pivotal role in shaping our approach. We value the voices of our community members and rely on that input to shape the policies that govern our district,” stated Mahaffey.
Julie Page, Wake County chapter chair for the conservative group Moms for Liberty, told WRAL that she believes that the board needs to define “pervasively vulgar” to ensure certain books are kept out of school libraries. Page preferred using the word “obscene” in the policy because of its definition in state laws as material that focuses on sexual content with no educational or artistic value.
The current House version of the state budget uses the word “obscene” when describing what materials are fit to be used for instruction.
Other policy changes included in the Wake County School Board revision include the requirement for teachers to collaborate with other school staff to choose read-aloud material and the requirement for nonrequired readings to be selected in collaboration with school-level teams or leadership.
Overall, out of 101 districts responding to a survey about book objections, most said that they had no formal challenges. So far, however, Pen America’s most recent index of book bans during the 2022-23 school year found that North Carolina has only had one book ban. During the same time, states like Texas and Florida have amassed 438 and 357 book bans, respectively.