The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has urged Ludlow Public Schools leaders to reject a policy proposal that could determine how and which materials are allowed to be kept in school libraries, saying the proposal is a form of censorship.
In a letter sent to the School Committee last week, senior and managing attorney at the ACLU of Massachusetts Ruth Bourquin claimed the library policy that was introduced to the Ludlow School Committee earlier this month “raises numerous legal issues, including free expression, vagueness and discrimination.”
The intent of the proposal, which was submitted by School Committee member Joao Dias, is to avoid having materials in school libraries that could be deemed inappropriate.
The proposal, for instance, would prohibit materials that contain “visual or visually implied depictions of sexual acts or stimulations of such acts,” according to a copy of the proposal obtained by New England Public Media, which first reported the ACLU letter. Any new or replaced materials would be subject to review by the superintendent and School Committee.
The proposal also says, “a school need not show that sexualized content is obscene to show that it is not appropriate or educationally suitable for minor students” and that parents or guardians have a variety of other options outside of the district’s libraries to introduce sexual content to their child that they deem age-appropriate.
In the ACLU letter, Bourquin said that the language of the proposed policy in Ludlow is nearly identical to another policy that was proposed in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which Bourquin said is “a district renowned for anti-LGBTQ+ bias” that is also facing litigation by the ACLU.
“Across the country, there is a coordinated attack on students’ right to learn,” Bourquin said in a statement. “Such efforts have no place here in Massachusetts, where our laws protect against these regressive measures.”
Bourquin added in the statement that, “Under this proposed policy, images and descriptions of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden would be categorically banned from elementary school library materials, and librarians seemingly could be fired for choosing to introduce elementary students to the joy of ballet by showing them male ballet dancers performing the Nutcracker.”
Ludlow School Committee members did not immediately respond to the Globe’s requests for comment on Monday. During a committee meeting on May 9, School Committee Chair Jeffery Laing said there will be a larger discussion about the proposed policy at the next meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday evening.
School districts across New England and the rest of the country have increasingly been challenged in the last few years by both conservatives and civil rights groups over how race, sex, and gender are taught in classrooms and what books are stocked in school libraries.
In 2022, the American Library Association says, it recorded the highest number of attempts to restrict library resources in school and public libraries in the 20 years the association has collected the information.
The ALA documented 1,269 attempts to restrict library books and resources in 2022, nearly double the 729 reported the previous year. Additionally, 2,571 titles were targeted for censorship, most of which were written by or about people of color and LGBTQ+ people, according to a statement released by the ALA in March.