Textbook Commission Hears from School Librarians as They Develop Guidelines for Schools and Reading Materials

In an effort to assist the Tennessee Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission with crafting a library policy mandated by state law, the Tennessee Department of Education pulled together state school librarians to craft a set of recommendations. Kate Capshaw, the current president of the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL), and Blake Hopper, a past president, presented their recommendations in a workshop session on Friday.

Legislation passed during the 2022 session of the Tennessee State General Assembly mandates that every state public school library publish a list of materials in their collections and periodically review them in an effort to ensure that all library books are “appropriate for the age and maturity levels of the students who may access the materials.” The law further empowers the Textbook Commission to override the decisions of local districts.

The Textbook Commission consists of 11 people appointed by the Governor, the Lt Governor, and the Speaker of the House.

Ten current commission members are:

  • Dr. John Combs – Director of Schools – Tipton Co., appointed by the Speaker
  • Dr. Linda Cash – Director of Schools – Bradley Co., appointed by the Lt. Governor
  • Dr. Mark Gonyea – Principal, appointed by Governor
  • Billy Bryan – Teacher or Instructional Supervisor, Grades 9-12. appointed by the Governor
  • Ms. Deborah Chancellor – Teacher or Instructional Supervisor, Grades 4-8, appointed by Lt Governor
  • Dr. Kathy Hickie -Teachers or Instructional Supervisors, Grades K-3, appointed by Speaker
  • Ms. Lee Houston – Middle Tennessee Public Member – Librarian, appointed by Speaker
  • Mr. Mike Bel – East Tennessee Public Member, appointed by Governor
  • Mr. Daniel French – West Tennessee Public Member, appointed by Governor
  • Ms. Laurie Cardoza-Moore, Middle TN Public Member, appointed by the Speaker

One commission seat remains open.

Currently, local districts use a model policy crafted by the Tennessee School Board Association (TSBA) to design their individual processes for reviewing materials and handling local appeals. The new guidelines will take existing policy into consideration while ensuring that all local policies are in compliance with state law and establish an appeal process for those unsatisfied with local decisions.

The creation of the guidelines required by the new legislation created additional challenges for the Text Commission, as it is outside the purview of their regular duties. Typically the commission is limited to overseeing the routine review and adoption of textbooks used in classrooms. Each school subject is subject to a review and adoption process at regular six-year intervals, currently, the state is in the midst of the process for math textbooks and materials.

Earlier in the Fall, Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission chair Linda Cash told a legislative subcommittee that  the law has added a lot of work “to people who already have a full load.” She suggested that additional staff may be required, along with a designated staff attorney to meet the additional demands.

The librarians advised keeping decisions primarily at a local level while recognizing the diversity of Tennessee schools in both student demographics and grade construction. The process needs to be standardized, with clear communication between all stakeholders, and provisions for a variety of outcomes. What might be inappropriate for one age group may not be for another.

In considering any book for review, both librarians stressed the need for reviewers to read the book in its entirety before drawing conclusions. Panel member Lee Houston, a Middle Tennessee librarian, noted that oftentimes parents see the movies instead of the book and assume they are one and the same.

However, in an email exchange with The Tennessee Star on Monday, Commissioner Laurie Cardoza-Moore said, “How can the Commission issue ‘guidance’ on the appropriateness of ‘materials’ and the ‘library collection’ when the members of the Textbook Commission have not read the library book(s) being challenged by parents, guardians, students and/or school employees? We are putting the proverbial cart before the horse.”

During a question-and-answer period at the end of Friday’s meeting, Cardoza-Moore said she’s heard anecdotally of reports that some school personnel lack time to properly screen books “dropped off” at their doorstep.

But Capshaw countered, “Books are not dropped off at a school;” adding, “The way that it works is that books are chosen, which is why there’s a selection policy.” The librarian then described the extensive process involved in selecting books for school libraries.


In Tennessee, a certified librarian must possess both a teaching license and a Bachelor’s degree in education and a Master’s in library science, plus complete any program certified by the American Library Association (ALA).

In a school with fewer than 400 students, a faculty member may serve as a library information coordinator.

If the library information coordinator is not present during library hours during regular school hours, staff member(s) may be designated to provide supervision to students in the library.

Cardoza-Moore pushed back, citing individual circumstances. Both representatives of TASL stated that they could not speak to individual instances, but did concede that not every school district employs a certified librarian. But in some cases, the responsibility falls to aides or others that do not have the extensive training of certified librarians, which contributes to the confusion around materials.

Cash instructed commission members that the new law directs them to provide guidance — not to set strict rules or regulations. Reminding members that it’s also not the commission’s job to define what constitutes violence, sexual content, vulgar language, or substance abuse for educators and school officials. That’s a responsibility that local officials and educators should already be practicing by screening library books and other teaching materials for age-appropriateness.

It was a message she delivered repeatedly throughout the proceedings.

Former State Senator Mike Bell, who now holds a seat on the commission, echoed her point and raised a question of how often Capshaw and Hooper had faced challenges on library books during their tenure. Capshaw said she’s received only two complaints in nine years as a librarian, both resolved at the local level. Hooper, a school librarian in rural Claiborne County, said he’s never received a complaint in his nine years on the job.

A common thread that ran through the entire workshop was recognition of the role parents play in decisions. Cardoza-Moore may have been the most ardent advocate, but all parties in attendance acknowledged the need to ensure that parents’ views were being considered in all decisions. Including allowing parents of advanced readers to approve materials outside the range normally made available to their peers.

There has been some question about whether the new state law applies to classroom libraries as well as school libraries. That question was brought up in the open discussion by commission member Ms. Deborah Chancellor, a teacher from Montgomery County. The Tennessee Department of Education has taken a position that it does. Consequently, as testified to by librarians present at the work session, some elementary school teachers have dismantled their classroom libraries.

Cash counseled that districts would need to consult with their local legal counsel for clarification. When clarity of scope was requested, the chairwoman responded that, unfortunately, she would need to resort to a political answer.  Due to a lack of clarity in the law, there are a variety of opinions on the subject and local districts are referring to their individual legal counsel for guidance.

The deadline for this phase of the commission’s work to pass guidelines for districts is December 1st.


A “classical education” is often described as a history-based, idea-oriented educational model that exposes students to the great minds of the past through literature, essays, philosophy, etc., similar to what was once referred to as a liberal arts education.

In an email exchange with The Star post-workshop, State Senator Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville) said, “Regardless of whether the review process is civil, the intent of the school library bill is to foment doubt about the propriety of reading materials in libraries and classrooms. This is part of a larger effort by extreme partisan groups to promote ‘classical’ programming, which is rooted in disinformation.”

Commissioner Cardoza-Moore told The Star that while she appreciated the input from the librarians, she questioned the practical application of their remarks. “[T]heir suggestion to keep decisions made on a ‘local’ level because of the ‘diversity’ and ‘demographics’ is disingenuous. That statement violates Governor Lee’s CRT law that went into effect earlier this year. We do not base our education on ‘diversity,’ but we provide equal education and opportunities to all Tennessee students.”

She added, “Finally, no work of literature should be approved for any Tennessee public school library unless the books have been reviewed and are in compliance with state statutes and standards, including all child indecency laws. Our children are not guinea pigs for the ‘woke’ agenda. They are our future leaders and should be provided with the best literature to assist them in developing to become good citizens for Tennessee and the United States.”

The next steps for the commission include voting on a general guidance template and beginning the development of a state-level appeals process on December 2.

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TC Weber is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. He also writes the blog Dad Gone Wild. Follow TC on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]. He’s the proud parent of two public school children and the spouse of a public school teacher.


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