WOLFEBORO — Bobbi Boudman, a Wolfeboro Democrat who tried to unseat state Rep. Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro) last fall, has filed petitioned warrant articles that would prohibit the town and Governor Wentworth Regional School District from banning books in reaction to a bill put forward in the state Legislature by Cordelli.
Cordelli says he’s not trying to ban books but simply protect children from obscene content with House Bill 514, which is titled “Relative to the dissemination of obscene material by schools and institutions of higher learning.”
Wolfeboro residents will vote on March 14. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Article 9 reads: “To see if the district will vote to prohibit expending district funds for the purpose of taking action towards the banning of books or any other content from our Governor Wentworth Regional School District Libraries thereby guaranteeing our citizens from their First Amendment Rights and their rights under the New Hampshire Constitution ... Additionally, to see if the voters will direct the Governor Wentworth Regional School District Board to urge the New Hampshire General Court to stop all actions including House and Senate Bills, infringing upon our First Amendment rights as explained in the 1939 Liberty Bill of Rights, the 1953 Freedom to Read Statement and the 1999 Libraries: An American Value.”
Article 39 is similar but directed to the town.
If approved, the articles would be sent to the Legislature, the House Education Committee, on which Cordelli sits, the Carroll and Strafford County Attorneys and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut.
Boudman’s articles enjoy the support of Wolfeboro selectmen (5-0) and the Governor Wentworth School District School Board, which didn’t record a tally.
“The thing that HB 514 does is it would give you the right to tell me that my child can’t read (a certain) book,” Boudman told the Sun on March 2. “What (my article says) is any books that are already in there, we will not be banning.”
Meanwhile, HB 514 is before the House Education Committee. Other Carroll County delegation members on the committee are Mike Belcher (R-Wakefield), Katy Peternel (R-Wolfeboro) and Steve Woodcock (D-Conway).
Cordelli, vice chair of the committee, testified Feb. 8 on the bill, saying, “I’m submitting this bill because I realized that our state obscenity laws exclude education from the law, and I don’t think that that contributes to having schools as a welcoming environment, a safe environment for children.”
HB 514 would require school boards to adopt a policy for dealing with “obscene material” that would begin with a written complaint from a parent or guardian to the school principal and then work its way to the school board and then the state Department of Education.
At the committee hearing, Woodcock, a former educator, said what might offend one principal might not bother another.
The bill also removes an exemption for K-12 education from the obscenity law under RSA 650:4. Cordelli in a phone interview said people he’s spoken with are astonished to learn that exemption exists.
During the hearing, Rep. David Paige (D-Conway and a former library trustee) said that in 2021, the American Library Association received reports that 1,597 books were targeted for being banned. In 2022, that number rose to 2,548.
“First and most egregiously, this bill takes the remarkable step of stripping K-12 educators of their longstanding protection under the law from being arrested, charged or indicted prior to any court determination that educational materials that they’ve made available are in fact obscene in nature,” said Paige.
He said if HB 514 passes, material aimed at minorities and gay people would be targeted.
Meanwhile, Betsy Harrington of Deering testified her high school-aged son had access to materials she deemed obscene through a school library app called Sora. “The most dangerous book I’ve read so far is ‘This Book is Gay.’ by Juno Dawson,” she said.
Peternel testified that many parents have come to her with concerns about material students are given or have had access to through their school.
Asked for comment about Boudman’s articles, Cordelli told the Sun in an email: “This article is mislabeled as relating to our First Amendment Rights. It should more appropriately titled as “Approval of Obscenity in Schools.’ ... HB 514 does two things: 1) Removes K-12 education from this exemption (higher education maintains its exemption) and 2) Establishes a process by which parents can bring objectionable materials to the attention of their principal and then the school board.
“HB 514 is about age-appropriate academic materials for our children in public schools. It is about protecting our most valuable asset, our children. The real question is why are K-12 schools exempt from NH obscenity laws?“ Cordelli said.
Meanwhile, Boudman said in Wolfeboro there have been questions about the book “Forever” by Judy Blume, which Boudman describes as a book that helps girls learn to be women.
“If HB 514 were to pass, then this (warrant articles) allows our town and allows our school district to say if you want to remove this book, we’re not spending any money, the state’s going to have to come in and do the job of removing the book,” she said.
The House Education Committee is expected to next discuss the bill on March 13.
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