GALLATIN, Tennessee – Sumner County’s Board of Commissioners passed a resolution Monday night that calls out Sumner County Schools (SCS) for having books in the system’s libraries that contain pornographic material and divisive concepts, in apparent violation of two different sections of Tennessee state law.
After about 90 minutes of debate and hearing from SCS Chief Academic Officer Scott Langford, the measure passed with a vote of 15 yes, five no, and one abstention after an earlier debate that resulted in adding the item to the agenda.
Langford, the second in command at SCS who was an eight-year member of the county commission and served as its chairman for seven of his eight years in office, attended the commission meeting and came forward to answer questions from the commission.
Langford said it should be him when it came to a specific part of the resolution that named personnel within SCS concerning dealing with obscene and provocative materials in the schools.
“Honestly, if you want to name who’s responsible for library brooks, it’s primarily me. And of course, if you want to include [SCS Director] Dr. Phillips,” admitted Langford.
Langford said SCS wasn’t violating the law, because they followed their process, and the books were removed. Review teams at the schools reviewed the book and Langford said, “They removed it, deeming that it was obscene.”
Retired Army Lt. Colonel and Education Committee Chairman Bob Brown (R-District 17), dressed in his uniform in honor of Veterans’ Day, brought the resolution forward by making a motion to add the proposed measure to the agenda. Brown read the entire resolution aloud at the request of Commissioner Jerry Becker (R-District 21) because they had not received the document in advance of the meeting.
Brown’s proposal was prompted by the October 18 meeting of the Sumner County School Board, during which school board members voted against putting the book Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison on the agenda, even after five of its sexually-graphic passages were read out loud to the board and the standing-room-only crowd by newly-elected school board member Steven King (R-District 5).
The book was found in library databases to be at the new Liberty Creek High School, Gallatin High School and Hendersonville High School. The day after the meeting, King reported on Facebook that the book no longer showed up at Liberty Creek. At Hendersonville High School the book was under review and at Gallatin High School, the book was checked out and due to be returned on November 2.
In a letter King addressed to SCS Director Del Phillips and his fellow board members the day following the meeting, he advised that after consulting with an attorney, the failure to remove the obscene book was a willful violation of Tennessee state law 39-17-911, “implicating Sumner County Schools, all School Board members, and principals and library staff of the aforementioned schools as complicit and subject to prosecution under Tennessee law.”
T.C.A 39-17-911 states, in part, that “it is unlawful for any person to knowingly … make available to a minor … any book … which contains explicit and detailed verbal descriptions or narrative accounts of sexual excitement, sexual conduct, excess violence, or sado-masochistic abuse, and that is harmful to minors.”
Any violation of that code section is considered a Class A misdemeanor.
Part of the county commission’s debate about the resolution concerned the declarations that material found in the books is a violation of Tennessee law and whether the commission was overreaching its authority in stating such.
According to the Legal Dictionary of thefreedictionary.com, a resolution is “The official expression of the opinion or will of a legislative body.” Further, the definition states that “resolutions are not laws,” and also, in part, that “lawmakers routinely deliver criticism or support on a broad range of issues.”
The resolution, after citing several subsections of relevant state law and quoting a portion of the explicit language from the Lawn Boy book and divisive concepts included in two other books, the commission affirms its commitment to support the laws of Tennessee. It also asserts that the SCS administration and school board have failed to comply with Tennessee law and that statements by some individuals and administrative personnel, alluding to those made at the school board meeting, appear to argue for defiance of Tennessee law.
As such, the commission strongly encourages the formation of three material and curriculum review committees, one for each for the elementary, middle and high school levels that would review the appropriateness of books for the district.
Additionally, the commission strongly encourages the Director of Schools and Chief Academic Officer to ensure that the SCS school environment is free from obscene and provocative material in accordance with Tennessee Code and directs that the county’s Office of Law Director send copies of the resolution to all SCS board members.
Of the 13 paragraphs in the proposed resolution, Commissioner Becker, whose brother is the principal of one of the three Sumner County high schools where the Lawn Boy book was found, proposed removing six of them. Becker’s proposed amendment failed with a vote of 14 no and 7 yes votes. Other amendments proposed during the debate on the resolution also failed.
The issue of the violating books initially came out of the October 11 study session of the SCS school board, during which newly-elected member Andy Lacy (R-District 11) brought up the book A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott and its political and divisive concepts. It had been reported by a parent to Lacy that the book was taken out of a county elementary school library by their six-year-old student.
The resolution went on to be passed with 15 yes votes from Commissioners Terry Moss (District 1), Mark Harrison (District 3), Darrell Rogers (District 5), David Klein (District 6), Mary Ellen Genung (District 9), Deborah Holmes (District 12), Terri Boyt (District 13), Jeremy Mansfield (District 16), Bob Brown (District 17), Don Schmit (District 18), Shannon Burgdorf (District 19), Merrol Hyde (District 20), Matt Shoaf (District 22), Tim Jones (District 23), and Chrissi Smith Miller (District 24).
The five commissioners voting no on the resolution were Commissioners Danny Sullivan (District 7), Baker Ring (District 8), Kevin Pomeroy (District 11), Wes Wynne (District 15) and Jerry Becker (District 21).
Commissioner Jamie Teachenor (District 14) abstained.
The video of the November 14 meeting of the Sumner County Commission can be watched here, with the discussion regarding the resolution beginning at 3:04.
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Star News Network, where she covers stories for The Tennessee Star.