Kern County Board of Education adopts book policy amidst controversy

May 15, 2024 /

On Tuesday night, the Kern Board of Education voted unanimously — with one trustee absent — to pass the Supplementary Instructional Materials Policy, otherwise known as BP 6161.11. This policy will determine whether a book is appropriate for school. 

The policy was taken directly from the California School Boards Associates and states that supplementary instructional materials must be inclusive, diverse, and educational — but also appropriate.

In addition to these requirements, the Kern Board of Education will also allow a parent or guardian to bring forward a complaint on a book using a form that will soon be on the Board’s website. 

This policy was first introduced as a discussion by Area 7 Trustee Lori Cisneros during the Board’s February meeting after she discovered the book Smoke by Ellen Hopkins in a classroom. During this meeting, the Board decided not to take further action and the discussion to implement a policy was held off. 

Last night’s meeting consisted of both supporters and opponents of the policy, leading to a lengthy public comment section. Doctor Tiara King, a clinical psychologist, also gave a presentation in which she compared literary erotica to pornography. 

“I stand before you to shed light on a critical issue facing our society — the detrimental impact of early exposure to erotica on children. As responsible members of our community, it’s our duty to safeguard the innocence and well-being of our youth,” King stated. 

King argued that overexposure to literary erotica could desensitize individuals to portrayals of violence, abuse, or other harmful behaviors. 

“Ignoring the risks and exposing youth to erotica could distort their views of sexuality and relationships, increase their propensity for risky sexual behaviors, potentially desensitize them to violence and objectification, foster addictive tendencies, and even link to exploitation in adulthood,” King said in conclusion to her presentation. 

Public comment on this policy began later during the meeting and those interested in speaking were given 90 seconds to make their comments. 

A major concern for opponents of this policy was that it would be equivalent to a book ban, a practice that was banned in California in September 2023. 

“I’m here to speak against restricting students’ access to books. I believe in parent’s rights and therefore, I believe in the right for parents to decide what their child reads. Some parents may not want their child to be exposed to a wide variety of literature, which is fine. It’s perfectly fine. But don’t restrict access for others. Conservatives believe in individual responsibility so allow other parents to decide what is appropriate,” commented Thomas Johnson, a community member in opposition to the policy. “What kids read and see online is far more egregious than what they would read in a library. Please don’t let extreme voices decide what our children read.”

After Johnson’s comments, Angelo Frazier stepped up to the podium, stating that schools have been acting as a petri dish of sexualization for kids. 

“Education, not sexualization. Education, not sexualization. Education, not sexualization,” chanted Frazier while others in the crowd joined in. 

Another community member in support of the policy pointed out that Kern County currently has extremely high rates of STIs and commented that this is not what the County should be known for and that some topics are better off taught at home and not in school. 

Another speaker in support of the policy alluded that people who prey on children were influenced by books in their elementary schools.

“I’m here to urge you to vote no and it’s not because I approve of sexually explicit materials, or pornography, or erotica in our classrooms — it’s because BP 6161.11 is poorly written and it doesn’t say that those are the things it’s trying to exclude,” commented Dawn Wilder. “What it says is that anything that some individual or this Board deems inappropriate will be removed from our classrooms and that is dangerous language because it puts in the hands of the few what you might think is inappropriate. That has every potential to erase queer voices from our classrooms.”

Following the public comment portion, the Board made it clear that it does not intend to implement a book-banning policy and that this policy is something that was already implemented throughout the state. The motion last night was to put this policy in writing on the Board’s website.

Additionally, this policy won’t remove books that are deemed inappropriate in every Kern school district, it will only immediately affect the students in Kern County’s six K-12 community schools. 

The complaint form, which is now available on the Board website, will allow any individual, parent, or guardian to complain about a book they think is inappropriate or contains erotica and request it be removed from the school or classroom they found it in. 

“Any member of our community has the ability to go on the website if they have found a book that is erotica, in any of our classrooms, they now have a form that has always been available, on our website,” Area 5 Trustee Paula Bray concluded before the voting. 

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Victoria Rodgers

Victoria Rodgers is an editor and reporter for Kern Sol News. Born in Bakersfield, CA, she received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Rockford University in Illinois. She can be reached at