Proposed regulation seeks to limit descriptions and depictions of sexual conduct and materials deemed obscene or indecent.

The State Board of Education in South Carolina is currently reviewing a proposed regulation that aims to establish a universal definition of “age-appropriate” educational materials in schools and libraries. The regulation would prohibit the inclusion of descriptions or visual depictions of sexual conduct, as well as any materials deemed obscene or indecent. This move is part of a broader conservative effort to restrict students’ access to books covering topics related to race, gender identity, and sexual orientation. While the regulation advanced in a recent vote, final approval is expected next year, followed by potential consideration in the state Legislature.

Concerns Raised by Opponents

Opponents of the proposed regulation argue that it represents an overreach of local officials’ authority and could limit access to inclusive books that address sensitive subjects. They fear that marginalized students, who may find resonance and representation in these materials, will be further marginalized by their removal. Melinda Henrickson, founder of Families Against Book Bans, emphasized the importance of local decision-making and expressed concern about the potential loss of access to books, such as Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which was reportedly removed from schools in Beaufort County.

Support for Unbiased Curriculum

Supporters of the proposed regulation argue that it is necessary to ensure that students statewide have access to unbiased curriculum that aligns with their cognitive development stage. By restricting materials that are deemed obscene or indecent, they believe that students will be protected from potentially harmful content. Miles Coleman, a partner at Nelson Mullins specializing in First Amendment law and president of the Federalist Society’s chapter in Columbia, South Carolina, stated that the regulation aims to strike a balance and not remove existing materials based solely on disagreement with their viewpoints.

Definition and Scope of “Obscene” and “Indecent”

The proposed regulation draws its definitions of “obscene” and “indecent” from federal statutes and broadcast television regulations. By aligning with these established definitions, the regulation seeks to provide clarity and consistency in determining what materials are inappropriate for students. However, critics argue that these definitions may be subjective and open to interpretation, potentially leading to the exclusion of valuable educational resources.

Implications for Educators

Educators have expressed concerns about the potential impact of the proposed regulation on their ability to focus on student needs. Patrick Kelly, a lobbyist for the Palmetto State Teachers Association, recommended limiting the complaint process to students, their families, and school employees. He argued that the current proposal would create additional burdens for educators, diverting their attention from teaching and supporting students.

Push for More “Rigorous” and “Objective” Materials

The proposed regulation also requires district boards to consider whether library shelves could be “better filled” with materials that are deemed more “rigorous” or “objective.” This provision has raised concerns among those who worry that it could lead to the exclusion of diverse perspectives and limit the availability of materials that promote understanding and empathy.

Conclusion:

South Carolina’s proposed regulation to establish a universal definition of “age-appropriate” educational materials in schools and libraries has sparked a contentious debate. While supporters argue that it is necessary to protect students from potentially harmful content, opponents fear that it will limit access to inclusive books and undermine local decision-making. As the regulation moves forward in the approval process, the balance between protecting students and preserving educational diversity will undoubtedly remain a focal point of discussion.