Friel to introduce bill to protect public school districts & students from unconstitutional book bans

HARRISBURG, June 21 – Rep. Paul Friel, D-Chester, announced today he will soon introduce the Freedom to Read Act, which would protect the first amendment rights of students and provide direction for schools as they navigate the increase in book challenges.

Friel noted that many school districts in Pennsylvania are struggling under a heightened sense of cultural polarization, often centered around the nature of books and other educational resources in schools. He said this shift has placed yet another burden on strained school districts, diverting time, energy, and finances away from the educational needs of students.

“One of the complicating factors in this situation is that two things are true at once,” Friel said. “Parents, of course, have the right to excuse their child from accessing books they feel violate their beliefs. But students in general have the right to access the widest possible range of age-appropriate books and resources available to them.”

Key to Friel’s proposed legislation is protecting the first amendment rights of Pennsylvania’s students. While parents may choose to control what books their own child can access, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that a school board may only remove a book if it’s deemed educationally unsound. It is unconstitutional to ban books in order to "prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion," according to the opinion delivered in Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 vs. Pico.

The measure also contains provisions to implement an appeal process for instances where a book is under question because of its educational value or age appropriateness. It would outline a more uniform process for those appeals, placing the responsibility for reviewing the book with a regional committee of instructional experts, comprised of qualified local teachers, librarians, principals, and administrators. This would allow for a more efficient review, lessen the influence of hyper-politization, and relieve the administrative burdens on school districts, according to Friel.

“We know that among the stressors contributing to our teacher shortage crisis – low pay, high-stakes testing, and stifling bureaucracy, for example – is the politicization of schools,” Friel said. “When our educators feel they’ve lost the ability to do the job they set out to do, it’s time for us to look at how we can course correct and better support their ability to educate our young people.”