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House education committee hears Walz policy bill that would bar book bans in Minnesota public schools, libraries

Education Commissioner Willie Jett testifies Wednesday before the House Education Committee regarding the governor’s education policy bill. Rep. Laurie Pryor, the committee chair, sponsors HF3782. (Photo by Michele Jokinen)
Education Commissioner Willie Jett testifies Wednesday before the House Education Committee regarding the governor’s education policy bill. Rep. Laurie Pryor, the committee chair, sponsors HF3782. (Photo by Michele Jokinen)

— UPDATED at 11:49 a.m. Feb. 29 to correct quote attribution

At a time when many states and local school boards are passing laws to restrict students’ access to library books, Minnesota wants to go the opposite direction.

Book bans in public and school libraries based on content or ideological objections would be prohibited by HF3782, which contains education policy provisions and technical fixes proposed by Gov. Tim Walz.

The bill, as amended, was laid over by the House Education Policy Committee Wednesday. It is sponsored by Rep. Laurie Pryor (DFL-Minnetonka), the committee chair.

House Education Policy Committee 2/28/24

Shana Morse, the department’s assistant director of government relations, said the bill would prohibit the governing body of a public library “from banning, removing or restricting access to an otherwise age-appropriate book based upon its content or other subjective objections.”

It would require the book and material collection decisions of a library to be made or overseen by a licensed library media specialist, an individual with a master’s degree in library sciences or library and information sciences, or a professional librarian or person with extensive library collection management experience.

“The administration is eager to engage in discussions regarding the recognition of invaluable contributions made by our professional librarians and the preservation of Minnesota’s public libraries as vital sources of information freely accessible to all,” said Education Commissioner Willie Jett.

Rep. Ben Bakeberg (R-Jordan) is concerned about potentially having just one person in a school district make such decisions and suggested more people need to be involved in the decision-making process.

“You never sail out on a ship alone,” he said. “The way this is written … we’re putting them in the boat and we’re kicking them out all by themselves to make these decisions. This is more about politics than this is about books.”

Rep. Peggy Bennett (R-Albert Lea) believes book decisions should be left to the local level, not state government.

“Locally elected school boards, they are not political units. They are locally elected to run their school districts. That’s what they’re there for. That’s local control,” she said. “This state control does not belong in this situation.”

Morse said the goal is open access to information for all Minnesotans.

“It would be the qualified librarians who have training and who are responsible and obligated to look at the community’s needs,” she said. “That rests in the hands of the professionals who have been trained to do that evaluation.”

A parent or guardian would still be able to request a content challenge to library books.

While much of the bill would make technical changes, corrections and clarifications, other notable provisions would:

  • delay citizenship course requirements for 11th and 12th graders to start in the 2025-26 school year;
  • require special education teachers to have advanced training to obtain a Tier 1 or Tier 2 special education license;
  • ensure that a child of a teenage parent who is in foster care or in need of child protection services qualifies for an early learning scholarship; and
  • require school districts to offer effective language assistance to students and adults who communicate in a language other than English.

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