Proposed Texas law could create ‘age appropriate’ rating system for school library books

Freedom of expression advocates are expressing worries about a proposed law in Texas that would create a state-mandated age rating system for books.

Under the proposed law, publishers would be forced to slap state-approved age ratings on the cover of every book sold to a district school or open-enrollment charter school in Texas.  

State agencies could request that publishers change the ratings as they see fit. Publishers that do not comply with a request to change the rating within 120 days could essentially be blacklisted, and see school districts banned from purchasing books from them.  

Director of Free Expression and Education Programs at PEN America Johnathan Friedman said during a Wednesday press conference that this form of age restriction for books is already happening at the local level.  

“These are just some of the decisions being made to control what every student and family can read in schools,” Friedman said. “Now, there are more and more proposals being pushed to put more government force behind it and to police the circulation of ideas more closely.” 

One example of how age restrictions are being rolled out locally happened this week.

The Frisco Independent School District in Texas recently decided to only allow students in the sixth grade and older to read JRR Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.”  

Last month, the Escambia County School Board in Florida ordered the book “Draw Me a Star” by Eric Carle to be removed to a restricted library where students younger than sixth grade would be able to check it out only with a permission slip from their parents.  

Carle’s book was challenged because it contains an illustration of a naked man and woman.  

Friedman said during the Wednesday press conference that he worries about the possible implications of legislation like the one proposed in Texas. Under such a law, schools run the risk of simply not having books if a publisher refuses to provide books that are required to have age ratings.

Friedman added that that other media like music and films have ratings imposed by the industry and not by the state.  He said the bill could give the state “an incredible power” which could then be easily politicized and manipulated.

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