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'It's surreal': Collierville Schools removes LGBTQ+ books from library shelves

Collierville High School junior Milana Kumar said removing books without parents’ knowledge from shelves is hurting student-faculty trust.

COLLIERVILLE, Tenn. — Collierville Schools is under scrutiny after pulling over 300 books from school libraries, according to a report by the Commercial Appeal.

All while a Tennessee bill that would ban LGBTQ+ books was being considered by lawmakers this past spring.

“It was surreal because a lot of the times, I feel like it's easy to detach from the decision making and the decision-makers who are at the capitol from my life,” said Collierville High School student Milana Kumar.  

Kumar testified in April against Senate Bill 1944, which would ban books deemed “obscene.” 

Over 300 books were reportedly pulled and placed into the counselor’s office, with district officials suggesting certain categories be removed for good. 

“I think it's more about control as well, instead of just the books themselves, and it perpetuates that like adultist narrative that, 'I can control your education'," said Kumar.  

The Commercial Appeal reported a Collierville spokesperson stated the books were not removed from official circulation, but for review.

Kumar, who is a Tennessee Youth Coalition organizer, said Collierville Schools should have alerted parents and students about the book review process. 

“I think that each school should have let the population around them know like, what that looks like for that specific school,” Kumar said. “Especially because that was such a driving argument in getting this bill passed. We're transferring power to the school districts.”

Kumar said the book removal is making topics like race and sexual orientation more difficult to discuss openly. 

“As a queer student at that school and seeing that these are your books are primarily around LGBTQ+ communities, it's just discomforting,” Kumar said. “It doesn't make any student feel safe, respected, or their identity is being fostered in any classroom.”

Sen. Joey Hensley, the bill’s sponsor, told ABC24 the bill was killed this year but will be brought back up in next year’s session. 

ABC24 reached out to Collierville Schools in an e-mail on what categories of books were banned and if parental consent is needed for novels considered age-inappropriate. 

The district's statement is below:

"On April 6th, our librarians were notified that all books that would possibly be affected by SB1944 and HB0800 were no longer under review as the bills were both sent to summer study and could be returned to the shelves. Please note that these books were not removed from official circulation through our library Destiny system but were pulled from the shelves to begin a review process if the bills were signed into state statute. 

Student books are labeled in our checkout software.  Those books that contain material that is for “mature readers” or designated “young adult literature” are not available in our elementary libraries and are available in our middle school libraries with parent permission, due to the content. There are no books at the high school level that require parental permission for check out. We are in the process of developing procedures to comply with the Age-Appropriate Materials Act of 2022 (Public Chapter No. 744), which may include required parental approval for certain materials. We anticipate more guidance from the State Board of Education, the TDOE, and the newly expanded “Textbook and Materials Committee” by December of this year."

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