Central Kentucky school district changes course, returns banned books to school libraries

Boyle County Schools says it is returning more than 100 books to school libraries that were removed from shelves earlier this year because of school officials’ interpretation of Senate Bill 150, which prohibits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The district said it decided to reverse course because of guidance issued by the Kentucky Department of Education stating that the new law “does not provide for the removal of library media resources from a school library,” according to the district’s statement, which was dated Friday and shared with the Herald-Leader by WKYT.

“Prior to KDE’s established guidance our district concluded that library materials constitute instructional materials,” the district said.

Boyle County Superintendent Mark Wade did not immediately respond to an email asking about the decision Saturday.

In explaining the decision to remove the books, he previously pointed to the section of the SB 150 that states: “Any child, regardless of grade level, enrolled in the district does not receive any instruction or presentation that has a goal or purpose of students studying or exploring gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.”

He said the books that were removed “did not align with the curriculum or standards being taught” and that the district’s leadership, school librarians and legal counsel were involved.

Stephen Dexter, an attorney for the board of education, said Saturday afternoon that the district had asked the Kentucky Department of Education about whether the law applied to library books but did not get an answer, so they “were really left on their own.”

“That was a source of frustration, actually,” he said. “KDE typically issues guidance, and in this instance they did not.

“The Boyle County school system makes no policy decisions in a vacuum.”

After media outlets began reporting on the removal of the books, KDE spokesperson Toni Konz Tatman told the Herald-Leader in October that the law doesn’t provide for books to be removed from a school library if they aren’t being used for instruction on sexuality or STDs through a course, curriculum or program.

If the library materials were being used for that kind of instruction, she said the district should notify parents and give them an opportunity to inspect the materials, and students should be given an opportunity for an alternative without penalty.

Though the books now are being returned to circulation, the school district said in its statement Friday that parents can still “request limitations on their child’s ability to check out specific texts from our school libraries, and such requests can be directed to the school library media specialist.”

The district said it “remains committed to educating and providing amazing opportunities for all students while respecting parental rights and following the law.”

Shonna Storz, the parent of two Boyle County High School students, said she was part of a group of about 20 parents who began asking questions and pushing back against the decision to remove the books last summer.

She said parents were notified Friday that all the books were being returned.

“We are absolutely thrilled,” she said.

Storz said the district’s approach to library books has made her curious about how the district is handling other aspects of SB 150, and she plans to remain active in attending school board meetings.

“It really does make me wonder what are the other policies related to SB 150,” she said.

The new law bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, prevents trans kids from using the school bathroom that aligns with their gender identity and allows teachers to refuse to use pronouns that do not match a student’s sex assigned at birth.

The legislation also prohibits puberty blockers, hormones and gender-reassignment surgeries for those under 18.

The families of seven transgender young people asked the Supreme Court this week to stop the state from implementing the provisions related to hormones and puberty blockers.

Herald-Leader education writer Valarie Honeycutt Spears contributed to this report.