UNION COUNTY, Tenn. — School started in August, around the same time the Age-Appropriate Materials Act of 2022 went into effect.
The act requires school librarians and teachers with classroom libraries to create inventory lists of all the books and educational materials they have available to students in the classroom. Then, educators are required to post that list online, in a place where parents and other community members can review it.
The public is permitted to review the material for the appropriate age and maturity levels of the grade. If there are enough concerns and complaints about a specific material, it could be removed from the library or classroom.
State lawmakers said they intended for this law to allow parents to have more oversight of their children's education. The law was criticized for coming amidst national reports of efforts by Republican lawmakers to ban books discussing LGBTQ identities, Black history and several other subjects.
It was also passed after national controversy surrounding the McMinn County Board of Education's decision to remove Maus from the curriculum. That book is an award-winning graphic novel about a Jewish man's experiences during the Holocaust.
Some teachers said the new law requires much more work on their end. For Cheryl Helie, a fourth-grade teacher at Luttrell Elementary, this law has been a hassle. She has more than 1,500 books in her personal classroom library.
"These are collections of books that teachers have gathered, with their own money have been donated by parents. And they are just student choice books," Helie said.
Helie said she already provides a list of the course material for students and parents to go over at the beginning of the school year. Her personal collection of books is only for students who want to read 'above and beyond.'
Halie said she started cataloging her classroom library a few weeks ago. She went to work on a Saturday to complete some of what she has done so far.
"So far, I have scanned in 791 books," Haile said. "All of those took me about five and a half hours. ... At the end of that, I was done. Like, I wanted to go home and spend time with my family."
She still has about 800 books to go.
"I don't have time to inventory all these books and post that list online," she said. "So my only other option is to close my library to my kids."
Right now, her library has a sign over it saying that it's closed due to PC744.
"I wanted them to know about the law. And then I also created a letter for my students and their parents to let them know why these books are off limits to them," Halie said.
Halie said the law makes some teachers feel unqualified to select age-appropriate material for their students.
"Most of the parents in our community trust us," Halie said. "Parents are welcome to come in and look at my library at any time that they want. If a parent had an issue, then I would deal with that parent, on that book, for that student."
The law expands beyond books in what they call a "library collection."
According to the Tennessee Department of Education and PC744, a "library collection" means the materials made available to students by a school operated by a public school or a public charter school, but does not include materials made available to students as part of a course curriculum.
In the law, the word "materials" measn books, periodicals, newspapers, manuscripts, films, prints, documents, microfilm, discs, cassettes, videotapes, video games, applications, and subscription content in any form.
Helie said it's just too much.
"We were already competing with social media, video games, sports, and every other reason why kids shouldn't read or they don't want to read. You know, and now we're taking away choice from them because teachers don't have time to actually do it correctly," Helie said.
Starting on Jan. 1, 2023, schools will need to submit a list of materials in their libraries to the state "textbook and instructional materials quality commission" for approval before they can be included in a library.