Democrat’s effort to stop book bans unlikely to pass through GOP-controlled Senate
By Jaxon White/LNP | LancasterOnline
Jaxon White / LNP | LancasterOnline
State Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D-Montgomery County) talks about her bill to prohibit book bans at a press event in the Capitol's East Rotunda on Sept. 19, 2023.
This story is published in partnership with our sister newsroom LNP | LancasterOnline.
State Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, D-Montgomery County, on Monday introduced a bill to prevent public schools and state-funded libraries from banning books.
The legislation would require every library in Pennsylvania seeking state funding, including those in public schools, to write a statement that no materials will be banned “because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”
“Our libraries offer so much to our schools and communities and this rise of censorship is an attempt to dismantle a public good,” Cappelletti said, at a press event on Tuesday. “I trust our librarians and teachers to curate the stories that reflect the values of our community and challenge our perspectives.”
Cappelletti said banning any book from a library is unconstitutional.
“If you do not want a child or your child to read a certain book, they don’t have to read it. But that should not stop my child from being able to access that book in a library,” she said.
A Cappelletti staff member said the bill would affect book bans already in effect.
State Sen. Ryan Aument, R-West Hempfield, said he doesn’t think Cappelletti’s bill will make it out of the Republican-led Senate.
Aument, a member of the Senate Education Committee and a member of the GOP leadership team, said he doesn’t support book bans but thinks local school boards should be allowed to decide what books they make available.
He has introduced a bill that would require school districts to notify parents of sexually explicit content that is made available to students in learning material or in the school library. Parents would then be required to sign an opt-in form to allow their child access to that book or piece of media.
Sexually explicit content, according to the state’s criminal code, includes visual, written or implied forms of nudity or sexual content.
Aument said he introduced his bill “to empower parents to make choices with respect to the sexually explicit content that their children have access to.”
Content debates in Lancaster County
Arguments over book bans and what content should be allowed in public school libraries have been vigorously debated at Lancaster County school districts over the past two years.
In 2021, Eastern Lancaster County School District pulled from library shelves a graphic novel about eating disorders titled, “Lighter than My Shadow.” Several other districts, such as Ephrata, Warwick and Elizabethtown, have adopted policies to flag books by content and allow parents to opt their children out of being able to access certain material that includes violence, sexual references and LGBTQ characters.
Jamie and Caitlin Fickes, whose two children attend Elizabethtown School District, were at the press event in Harrisburg for Cappelletti’s bill.
“These are books in the public school. No one is forcing children to read them,” Jamie Fickes said. “The information contained in their covers doesn’t corrupt students by simply existing for those who want or need access.”
He added that a balance must be struck “between respecting parents’ choices and our public schools providing a wide range of literature that represents various viewpoints and cultures.”
Parents are angry, Aument said, because, too often, “there’s been a lack of transparency” and they are surprised by the types of materials available to their children. He said parents have shared images and passages from books with his office that he would not want his children to be able to access.
To counter opponents of restricting access to material like this, he’s published some examples on his website.
His bill has been in the Senate Education Committee since April. A similar version he introduced last year passed out of the Senate but didn’t come to a vote in the House.