Politics, Not Professionals, Will Determine Book Selection in Bucks County, Pennsylvania

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

A 6-3 vote in favor of a new draconican book plan in Pennsylvania’s third largest school district will put more power in the hands of adults to determine which books children in the schools have access to. The Central Bucks School Board, swayed by a loud and vocal Moms For Liberty group, will now create committees that will decide which books are appropriate for which age groups.

“The focus on the policy tonight is rooted in age-appropriateness to ensure it’s aligned with our content and our curriculum,” said Superintendent Dr. Abram Lucabaugh.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania, as well as a group of concerned parents, called the move a thinly veiled move toward censorship, and indeed, rather than allowing trained educators and librarians make the call, parents without any background will have a louder voice in the process.

 “Application of this policy will almost certainly result in unconstitutional censorship. And such censorship will assuredly attract federal court lawsuits,” said the ACLU.

An hour long public comment period at the board meeting was filled with words from those vehemently against the policy.

Karen Smith, a member of the board who voted against the policy, said it was a slippery slope into censorship. “The policy clearly allows for books to be removed from our libraries,” she said. “When something is removed and not allowed back, that’s a ban.”

The Central Bucks School Board includes Moms For Liberty member Debra T. Cannon and others who are supported by the group. Cannon, in her run for the board in November 2021, was vocally supported by far right-wing The Patriots Network, a group linked to the militia terrorist entity, the Three Percenters. The Patriots Network also endorsed two other board members in their successful run, Jim Pepper and Lisa Sciscio.

The new book policy follows the pattern of other “parents rights” movements across the country. These began in early 2021 as demands to reopen the schools–which were all already open but operating virtually because of the ongoing pandemic–and then moved into demanding school mask mandates be removed. Now, these “parents rights” groups are demanding more say in curriculum and in the books available in the schools, as a way to create discord and chaos and, ultimately, defund and discredit public education more broadly.

So what’s in the new book selection policy? For starters, book selectors must get their purchases approved by the school superintendent, who can utilize a committee to make a determination of the material’s appropriateness. This policy takes specific aim at any and all books exploring gender or sexuality:

It is the District’s objective to choose material that provides such rich educational content appropriate to students in the District over material that may provide similar content but with elements that are inappropriate or unnecessary for minors in a school setting.

Sexualized content that falls short of material prohibited by criminal laws is nonetheless generally inappropriate and/or unnecessary for minors in school. Parents/guardians have a wide range of options outside of the District’s library system to introduce their child to sexualized content they deem appropriate for their child’s age. As such, the District will prioritize inclusion of quality materials suitable for educational goals and worthwhile for the limited amount of time available to students that do not contain sexualized content.

In other words, because there is access to books about sex, gender, and sexuality outside of the school, the school has no responsibility to provide such material in the libraries. Moreover, this policy carefully skirts the “obscenity” arguments made across the country about books in schools but noting that titles that fall short of the definition can still come under scrutiny.

Whatever “inappropriate” may mean in the policy is, of course, left up to the opinions of those on the committee at the time.

Educational institutions purposefully electing to not include books about topics like sex and gender create the perfect environment for fueling misinformation by encouraging young people to seek sources–often unvetted, inaccurate, and sometimes downright dangerous–outside of its buildings.

The policy further notes that books for each school level shall be prioritized such that “selection of materials that do not contain other sexualized content, such as implied written description of sexual acts or implied nudity.”

Given the rhetoric in Moms For Liberty and affiliated circles, this policy opens the door for any books about LGBTQ+ people and families to remain off-limits.

In a school district serving over 17,000 students, it’s now politics which will determine what students get to learn, not professionals. The rights students have to read have been stripped from them.