Oregon Bill to Curtail School Book Bans; Anonymous Ad Sows Disinformation

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.

Another US state is taking up book bans during the new legislative year. Oregon joins states like Virginia, WashingtonNew JerseyKansasColoradoNew Mexico, and Massachusetts, in attempting to define the parameters around book banning in public schools.

Senate Bill 1583 was introduced by Senator Lew Frederick prior to session with its initial hearing in the Committee on Education on Tuesday. Additional sponsors of the bill include Representative Sanchez, Senator Steiner, Senator Gelser Blouin, Senator Jama, and Representative Nelson, as well as Senator Dembrow, Senator Lieber, Senator Patterson, Senator Woods, Representative Bynum, Representative Gamba, Representative H. Pham, Representative Ruiz, and Representative Valderrama.

The bill includes anti-discriminatory language into the state education code such that selection of books and learning materials in public schools are barred from refusing to use them based on their representation of protected classes. To be clear, selection of books for curriculum still remains in the hands of the school district, but decisions about material cannot be made based on discrimination. The bolded text is the change:

Textbooks and other instructional materials shall adequately address the roles in and contributions to the economic, political and social development of Oregon and the United States by men and women who:
(1) Are Native American;
(2) Are of European, African, Asian, Pacific Island, Chicano, Latino, Middle Eastern or Jewish descent;
(3) Have disabilities;
(4) Are immigrants or refugees; or
(5) Are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
To comply with the prohibition on discrimination required by ORS 659.850, a district school board or a committee or officer responsible for the adoption of textbooks or other instructional materials under this section may not prohibit the use of, or refuse to approve the use of, textbooks and instructional materials on the basis that the textbooks or instructional materials include a study of the roles and contributions of any individual or group identified in subsection (1) of this section.

This applies not only to decisions related to educational texts for curriculum, but the bill also addresses school library workers and the materials made available in public school libraries.

SECTION 4. To comply with the prohibition on discrimination required by ORS 659.850, a district school board or any person responsible for the selection or retention of books in the library of a public elementary or secondary school of this state may not prohibit the selection or retention of, or refuse to select or retain, a library book on the basis that the library book includes a study or story

If passed, the bill would become effective immediately.

The bill drew significant public feedback in the days before its Committee hearing, all of which submitted electronically can be viewed here. A Twitter post with two-minute advertisement video went viral in the days before the hearing which claimed the bill would take away local control of schools and urged people to take action. The video features the hallmarks of the fear-mongering popular among the right, including images of drag queens reading books to children–something that has nothing to do with the bill at hand. The Oregon Capitol Chronicle noted it’s unclear who funded the ad, but that this bill drew more testimony than nearly any other measure this year.

“[SB 1583 is] not telling people that they have to read certain things,” Frederick said to the Capitol Chronicle. “There’s none of that. It’s just saying that these books that are in your libraries are books that are part of the whole library. They’re going to be there. It’s not forcing anybody to do anything.” 

The American Library Association recorded 9 attempts to restrict access to books in Oregonn between January and August 2023 alone, with 86 book titles challenged. This placed the state among the top for censorship attempts in this time frame. PEN America recorded 38 book bans in school districts during the 2022-2023 school year. Among the school districts who experienced bans were Canby School District, West Linn-Wilsonville School District, Medford School District, Salem-Keizer School District, and Roseburg school district. Though SB 1583 addresses schools specifically, public libraries have also been targeted in Oregon, including the Seaside Public Library.

A possible work session on SB 1583 is scheduled for today, Thursday, February 15, at 3 pm. If you’re an Oregon resident, take ten minutes to write your legislators today in support of the bill.