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Gov. Beshear allows ‘parental rights’ curriculum measure to become law

The cover of the book "Gender Queer" by Maia Kobabe
Jess Clark
/
LPM
"Gender Queer" by Maia Kobabe is the biggest target of book bans in the U.S., according to the American Libraries Association.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has allowed a bill criticized as a “book-banning” measure to become law without his signature.

After the GOP-led Kentucky Legislature passed Senate Bill 5, Gov. Andy Beshear had 10 days to veto the measure or sign it. Beshear did neither and let the provision become law Monday without weighing in.

SB 5 creates a new process for parents to challenge books, instructional materials and events they find “obscene” or “harmful to minors.” Republican supporters say “obscene” and “pornographic” materials are finding their way into school libraries, pointing to books such as “Gender Queer,” and other titles by LGBTQ authors. Opponents say Republicans are trying to target books that center the voices of LGBTQ people, Black people and other people of color.

In a statement on Twitter, the Republican Party of Kentucky blasted Beshear for opting not to sign the measure, calling the Democrat “weak on parental rights in education.”

“We need a Governor who will stand strong, not one like Andy Beshear who likes to run away with his tail between his legs,” the statement reads.

“Parental rights” have become a rallying cry for many conservatives who are opposed to LGBTQ-inclusive school policies and want to restrict classroom speech about racism. Republican gubernatorial hopeful Kelly Craft has made so-called “parents’ rights” the cornerstone of her platform, following the trail blazed by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Many attribute the Republican’s 2021 win to his messages appealing to mostly white, conservative parents’ desires to curb classroom speech on race and gender.

Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) spokesperson Josh Shoulta said school board members are keeping a wary eye on the potential impacts of the law “and what kind of increased burden, if any, is placed on school boards and their central offices.”

Though many Kentucky school districts already have policies that allow parents to challenge controversial materials, SB 5 prescribes a specific complaint process. Under the new law:

  • Parents can challenge books, materials or events they believe are “harmful to minors,” by filing a complaint with the school principal. 
  • Principals must respond to the complaint and make a determination within 10 business days.
  • If the parent disagrees with the principal’s decision, they may appeal to the local board of education, which must hold a hearing within 30 calendar days to vote on whether to remove the materials from the school or ban the event.
  • The materials or event in question and board members’ individual votes on the issue must be published on the district’s website and in the newspaper with the largest circulation in the county. 
  • If the parent still disagrees with the board’s decision, they may formally request the school to ensure their student does not have access to the materials or event.

The measure becomes law at a time when school districts nationwide are handling an onslaught of requests from conservative parents and community members to pull certain titles from libraries.

Shoulta said KSBA will be watching to see whether the law will prompt a proliferation of extra school board meetings.

“Will there, for instance, be additional and/or longer school board meetings in this initial year? Will districts struggle to meet mandated timelines for response and resolution? Will the nature of some complaints ignite further public controversy? Will the non-partisan business of our locally elected school boards, at times, be politicized to the point of possible disruption?” Shoulta wrote.

The Kentucky Department of Education is required to create a model policy for the new complaint resolution process by May 1. Local school boards will be required to adopt their own process by July 1.

Support for this story was provided in part by theJewish Heritage Fund.

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Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.