She said ‘no’ to the bullies

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State legislation that would ban potential book-banners from doing so – dubbed “The Freedom to Read Act” – has been introduced in the State Legislature.

State Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset) and state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex and Hudson) introduced the bill in the state Senate on Jan. 29. It was referred to the Senate Education Committee.

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A companion bill was introduced in the state Assembly Feb. 1 by Assemblywoman Mitchelle Drulis (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset), Assemblywoman Shavonda E. Sumter (D-Bergen and Passaic) and Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr. (D-Burlington). It was referred to the Assembly Education Committee.

The proposed legislation would apply to school libraries and public libraries.

The legislation states that school boards must adopt a policy on material that is included in the library. It would be based on a model policy developed by the state Commissioner of Education in conjunction with the state Librarian and the New Jersey Association of School Librarians.

The proposed law also states that school library material should reflect diverse points of view in the collection as a whole. It would require students to have access to age- and grade-appropriate diverse and inclusive material.

A school board would have to adopt a policy establishing a procedure for a request to remove library material within the school library, the legislation states.

A request to remove library material must come from someone with a vested interest in a school district – an employed teacher, an enrolled student, or a parent or guardian of an enrolled student.

Public libraries likewise would have to adopt a policy on the curation of library material. The state Librarian would develop a model policy in consultation with the New Jersey Library Association.

As in school libraries, residents would be provided with access to diverse and inclusive material that should present diverse points of view in the collection as a whole, the legislation states.

The state Librarian would develop a model policy establishing a procedure for removing library material, based on consultation with the New Jersey Library Association.

A request for removal of library material may be submitted by anyone with a vested interest in the library, such as a resident who uses the library.

In all instances, librarians who work in school libraries and public libraries would be immune from criminal or civil liability. Also, they would be able to sue anyone who harasses them.

Zwicker said more than 4,000 books have been challenged. About 80% of those books have protagonists who are people of color, or who are LGBTQ, he said.

The senator said he was inspired by the experiences of Martha Hickson to introduce “The Freedom to Read Act.” She is a librarian at North Hunterdon High School.

Hickson ran into trouble with school district administrators who attempted to remove books that they deemed to be questionable. She said “no” to the bullies, Zwicker said.

“She said ‘no’ to the people who came in with a political purpose (and) who wanted to control what people were reading, according to their particular ideology,” Zwicker said.

“The abuse that was heaped on Hickson was unfathomable. She was subjected to abuse at school board meetings and online.”

Librarians across the country are under attack, Zwicker said. Those who would ban books may be small in number, but they are loud in voice, he said.

“A parent has a right to autonomy over their child and what they choose to read, but no parent should have the right to say what I can read or what my child can read,” he said.

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