Tennessee Textbook Commission Tasked With Creating Appeals Process Begs For Legal Guidance

Image Credit: comptroller.tn.gov

The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –

At a virtual meeting of the Tennessee Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission this week, committee members voiced concerns over the guidance they are fine tuning for school districts regarding the appeals process for materials.

A motion was made, and voted on 7-1, to get an opinion from the Attorney General on the draft guidance that the committee has put together, and if the Attorney General declines to look at it, to then ask attorneys on the Education committee of the Tennessee legislature to advise.

Former Senator Mike Bell, who serves as the East Tennessee Public Member of the commission, and who voted no, said that this was “a highly unusual request” as those attorneys only work for the Tennessee legislature. 

A second motion was then made and voted on to seek “timely assistance” from the Education committee and then to request legal help from the Tennessee Department of Education if the Education committee failed to advise. This motion passed 6-2 despite the point being made that there is supposed to be somewhat of a “firewall” between the Textbook Commission and the Department of Education.

Conservative activist Laurie Cardoza-Moore, who serves as the Middle Tennessee Public Member, successfully lobbied for language to be added to the commission’s guidance for school districts to ensure that “all materials are not in violation of state statutes.” Cardoza-Moore requested that the guidance include reference to TN Code § 39-17-901 so that the commission could use the definitions in the code as “a foundation as we review materials” but Committee Chair Linda Cash said the code could not be added until some research was done regarding whether that was lawful. Cash reiterated that it is the commission’s responsibility to create guidance, not law, as she did at last month’s meeting.

In that meeting, Cardoza-Moore pushed for the commission to define the parameters of what is age-appropriate when it comes to the books that school-aged children have access to in their school libraries. 

The commission also voted on how often appeals for the same materials can be made – deciding on three years – and how many appeals an individual can make in a year.

Cardoza-Moore argued for unlimited appeals, but the commission voted to allow just two appeals per year per individual.

The commission has been given the authority to remove books from all schools throughout the state as part of an appeals process over challenged materials but expect few appeals as parents will be required to first take action at the school district level. Only after a book has been reviewed locally, and voted on by the school board, can it be brought to the commission for further evaluation and a vote.

Committee members discussed whether that evaluation process should include the reading of the challenged materials. Middle Tennessee Librarian Member Lee Houston and Cardoza-Moore both argued for reading books in their entirety but High School teacher Billy Bryan stated it “may not be necessary” while referring to his already very full schedule.

“When we talked to the library panel that was something that they really pushed and what the librarians see is that when you’re reading a book or anything else that you take it in its entirety and not just something out of context,” Houston said. “That’s kind of like not listening to both sides of the story and making a decision. I don’t think that that’s really fair.”

Cardoza Moore agreed. “We should be reading cover to cover or watching, reviewing the materials because if we’re going to make a decision we do have to have it in its entirety,” she said.

Watch the full meeting below:

About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at paula@tennesseeconservativenews.com.

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