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The question of sexual content available to children in school libraries
Guest column by Amy Bruner
I’m finally clearing my head after an overwhelming few weeks lobbying and testifying at the Statehouse for bills that would help to protect minors from sexually explicit materials in public school libraries. I’m also trying to purge my brain of the filth I had to read in order to be fully prepared for the effort - and that’s not easy.
Unfortunately, the bills failed. South Dakota House Bill 1163 and Senate Bill 193 each took a little different approach, but both would have provided for better review processes to help keep materials “harmful to minors” out of children’s hands. “Harmful to minors” is legally defined as any picture, image, graphic image file, or other visual depiction that— (i) taken as a whole and with respect to minors, appeals to a prurient interest in nudity, sex, or excretion; (ii) depicts, describes, or represents, in a patently offensive way with respect to what is suitable for minors, an actual or simulated sexual act or sexual contact, actual or simulated normal or perverted sexual acts, or a lewd exhibition of the genitals; and (iii) taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value as to minors. SB 193 would have also allowed for parental involvement in the review of instructional and library materials. The passage of either bill would have been a step in the right direction to shield our youth from pornographic material at school.
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Even here in deep red South Dakota, our school libraries are loaded with sexually explicit books. We find them in small towns and large cities alike. It’s the usual suspects - “This Book Is Gay” by Juno Dawson, which instructs readers on the use of lube for “bumming” and gives tips for arranging sex hookups on the Grindr app; “Lucky” by Alice Sebold, which describes in graphic detail how a young girl’s rapist is upset that she is dry until he fists her and she becomes wet with blood; and “Kingdom of Ash” by Sarah J. Maas, which is available to children as young as 12 and gives lascivious and erotic descriptions of sexual acts, including oral sex.
Too much? My apologies, but you should know what the public school libraries are giving your kids. I’m not just some prude out here clutching my pearls whilst wailing about a couple of crudely placed f-words. Our children have access at the public school library to books that contain graphic, explicit descriptions (and sometimes drawings) of vaginal sex, sodomy, oral sex, violent rape, molestation, fisting, masturbation and instructions for how to perform a panoply of predilections.
There are dozens and dozens of these books available to children across our state, and parents are seemingly unaware. Nearly every person I speak with is shocked when they learn what their tax dollars are funding in the public school libraries - and they feel betrayed. They are concerned that exposure to this highly sexualized and violent material is desensitizing young minds; grooming their children and lowering their defenses, leaving them vulnerable to predators and pedophiles.
According to school officials, these materials are included in the school libraries under the guise of meeting students where they are and everyone’s experience and truth is different. We are told that library and curriculum personnel take great care in the selection of library materials. In the same conversation, though, we are told that the librarians don’t read all the books that come into the library. Well, who IS reading them? If books are not being directly vetted at our local schools, to whom are districts abdicating that responsibility?
No clear answers surface to these questions. We are also told the responsibility ultimately falls to the elected school board. No matter where the onus lies, parents across the state and across the nation are running up against fierce defenders of these books’ presence in school libraries. Parents wanting to protect their children from accessing these books face an uphill battle. And why? Why is giving kids access to all-things-sex one of the hills many schools choose to die on these days?
This whole thing could be solved by having a parental opt-in. Put all those books in a dirty book closet in the back of the library. When parents register their children for school, they could be given a box to check. Do you want Little Johnny to have access to the dirty book closet - yes or no? If you want your child exposed to this explicit, sexual content, feel free; but keep my kids out of it.
As a parent, I want informed consent. It is my husband’s and my prerogative to instill in our children the values and moral code related to sex that aligns with our belief system. I respect that of all families - you do you and we’ll do us. Parents should be given the opportunity to fully understand the sexual content available in all school materials (including library material) and be offered the opportunity to opt their children in if they so choose.
This will take work. Parents, we’ve been asleep at the wheel for a while. We are going to need to pay attention and get engaged. Contact your local schools and school boards to express your concerns. School districts need to be open to parental involvement and honor parental rights, which have been upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States. The effort by both parties is necessary for the welfare of our children and our nation, and it will go a long way toward restoring the circle of trust that seems almost irrevocably broken. Let’s stop the philosophical battles and get to work doing what’s best for the youngsters entrusted to us.
Amy Bruner is a South Dakota Mom.