Governor, AG and SPI weigh in on book bans with a joint letter

On June 1, 2023, Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Rob Bonta and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond sent a joint letter to California superintendents and school principals under the heading, “Educational Rights and Requests to Remove Instructional Materials Statewide.” The joint letter advised county and district superintendents to caution school boards against “book banning” or restricting access to curriculum and instructional materials that “reflect the diverse experiences and perspectives of Californians.”

Despite the fact that book bans are exceedingly rare in this state — PEN America, a source that tracks the issue nationally, lists only one such case in California — the joint letter warned that removal of materials may constitute unlawful discrimination. The letter also noted the Attorney General may review a governing board’s actions, policies and procedures related to the removal or banning of instructional materials from classrooms or libraries. CSBA attorneys are currently reviewing the joint letter to further inform school board members, who are responsible for the localized adoption of textbooks and instructional materials.

The joint letter highlights case law and state constitutional language restricting the removal of books from libraries and schools as well as the responsibilities of school administrators to preserve freedom of speech and expose students to various world views. By stating that information requests may be used as an enforcement tool, the joint letter from the Governor, Attorney General and SPI encourages school governance teams to ensure they are complying with the law when making decisions about curriculum, instructional materials and library books.

CSBA supports efforts to provide a well-rounded education that includes a curriculum with a diverse variety of perspectives that prepares students for success in college, career and civic life. At the same time, CSBA strongly supports and advocates for significant local control where curriculum and instructional materials are concerned since these are principally local decisions. Provided districts offer an education that promotes the “diffusion of knowledge and intelligence” while exposing students to a range of ideas that prepare them for life after graduation, the Education Code specifies that LEAs have “broad discretion in the management of school affairs.” This broad discretion has been embedded in our statutes and court decisions for decades out of recognition that locally elected school board members are best situated to make the decisions that reflect the needs and interests of their students and communities.

CSBA encourages school boards to remain compliant with the law and facilitates that process through sample policies to help guide districts on the practical issues related to curriculum, instructional materials, media and parental complaints.

These CSBA sample policies will help member school districts and county offices of education uphold their concurrent obligations to the law and to the interests of their communities and local electorate:

  • Board Policy/Administrative Regulation 6161.1 – Selection and Evaluation of Instructional Materials
  • BP 6161.11 – Supplementary Instructional Materials
  • BP 6163.1 – Library Media Centers
  • Policy 6144 – Controversial Issues
  • Policy 6142.1 -Sexual Health And HIV/AIDS Prevention Instruction
  • BP/AR 1312.2 – Complaints Concerning Instructional Materials