Republicans propose to restrict books, prosecute school staff

By: - May 11, 2023 5:32 am
Line of books from the side with library shelves of books behind them

Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Republican lawmakers are proposing to remove certain books from schools and prosecute school staff who allow students to access materials deemed inappropriate. A co-sponsorship memo entitled “Protect Childhood Innocence” authored by Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha) and Sen. Andre Jacque (R-DePere) began circulating Tuesday. One proposed bill removes protections of schools and their staff against prosecution for “obscene materials violation.” The other bill prohibits a school district from using school library aid funds to purchase “any item that would be considered obscene material.”

The Wisconsin Examiner first reported last May on emails sent by former Rep. Jesse James (R-Altoona) showing that James had been provided a list of potentially “inappropriate” books by parents in his district. The books on the list dealt with LGBTQ topics and characters, issues of gender identity and sexuality and the burden of overcoming racial stereotypes and inequality.

Rep. Scott Allen
Rep. Scott Allen

James approached school districts in his Assembly district to determine whether they had copies of the books on the list. The emails also discussed plans to open up librarians and teachers to prosecution for providing such materials. Allen, Jacque, and other school districts also discussed  nearly identical copies of the list  and used it to remove books.

Now, the effort is making its  expected debut in the Legislature. “Imagine your middle school student shows you a book that they are reading from school in which characters describe how to perform oral sex,” the memo circulated by Jacque and Allen reads. “Most parents would be shocked that a student could find a book with this type of sexually explicit material in their school library. Since the pandemic, parents have paid more attention to what material their students are encountering and demanding that their students not encounter sexually explicit material in school.” The memo references Wisconsin statutory language which “makes clear that obscene material is sexual conduct described in an offensive way with no educational value.”

The memo states that the bill related to funding would “help school districts do their jobs to prevent obscene material from showing up in schools and school libraries.” It adds, “some might worry that the removal of exemption will unleash waves of lawsuits against schools but this is untrue due to provisions in current law.” The memo states that two layers of review, a district attorney and the attorney general, help ensure that “only clear violations of the law result in litigation.”

Sen. Andre Jacque (official photo)

It concludes by further downplaying concerns which may arise from the proposal. “With these protections there should be no reason for a school employee to fall afoul of distributing obscene material, but if they do distribute obscene material, then parents should expect there to be accountability. Surely our school employees who are influencing the future generation of Wisconsin should not be immune to accountability.”


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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets.