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New Park City School District policy emphasizes parent choice in reading materials

Park City School District spokesperson Heidi Matthews, left, and school board vice president Wendy Crossland, right.

The Park City School Board updated its sensitive materials policy to comply with new state definitions of what’s acceptable on school bookshelves. Board vice president Wendy Crossland explains that the policy balances nuanced legal conflict and parent choice.

If a book depicts masturbation, is it automatically pornography? Depends on who you ask.

In the wake of the state legislature passing HB 374, Utah school districts are updating policies defining sexual content in books and classroom materials.

Park City School District has long had a policy in place for parents to review materials and opt out if they prefer their children read something else.

The update expands the existing policy from classroom materials to libraries, clarifies the process by which parents can challenge books, and reflects the legislature’s new definitions of sensitive materials.

School board vice president Wendy Crossland said Park City and other districts are tasked with balancing new standards with their educational mission of representing diverse experiences and viewpoints.

She said that won’t be straightforward.

“It’s a conflict because we have federal law, we have state law," Crossland said. "And at the end of the day our policy leans into parental choice. There is a policy in there, part of our policy includes making sure the books are and literature and text is presented to families and parents ahead of time so a parent can opt out.”

While Park City’s new policy complies, legal questions are still being raised at the state level – and the state could even face a lawsuit from free-speech groups.

Crossland explained that in reviewing the new law, the attorney general’s office recommended districts consider works in their entirety even if they contain elements the legislature has deemed illicit – like depictions of masturbation.

“What the attorney general has interpreted has been that there is potentially the question of whether there's a bright line that if certain material is in a book, you have to ban the book, the attorney general within the opinion also states that it is better for to mitigate risk and for educators and schools to consider the context of the book as a whole, with the material in it to determine if it's a book that should stay in schools or be prohibited.”

Crossland said the Utah attorney general has told the legislature that a legal challenge is likely.

For now, following the new law will involve time- and resource-intensive reviews of library shelves. The school district is seeking guidance from the Utah State Board of Education on how to train committees to evaluate materials in compliance with HB 374.

“We don't just want to go in tomorrow and take books off the shelves without context, without vetting, without proper weeding," she said. "And so, the policy we have implemented allows for this to have a challenge to a book that includes language that could be included in the sensitive materials law, however, we consider it in the context in which it is being presented.”

People can find more information about the new policy on the school district website.