Oklahoma Supreme Court rejects state education board's authority over public school libraries

EDMOND, Okla. (AP) —

Local school boards in Oklahoma will retain the right to determine what books are available in public school libraries after the state Supreme Court shut down efforts to shift that discretion to the state Board of Education.

“The state Board of Education is attempting to exercise unauthorized quasi-judicial authority in enforcement proceedings before the board,” Justice James E. Edmondson wrote in the unanimous ruling Tuesday in a lawsuit brought by Edmond Public Schools.

“State statutes give a local school board power and a type of statutory discretion to supply books for a school library that meet local community standards,” the ruling added.

The board, led by state Superintendent Ryan Walters, had recommended the suburban school district remove two books — “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini and “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls — after new rules were approved in June 2023 that banned books and other media that contain pornographic and sexualized content.

The lawsuit was filed days before a hearing the board scheduled on the district's appeal of its recommendation.

The district welcomed the decision in a statement. It said the ruling "protects our locally elected school board’s role in creating policies that determine how library materials are selected and reviewed.”

Walters said he was disappointed, calling in a statement for the Legislature to act “and reign out of control access to pornography in schools that our kids are exposed to.”

The ruling came the same day attorneys for LGBTQ+ youth, teachers and major publishers asked a federal appeals court to affirm a lower court order that blocked key parts of an Iowa law banning books depicting sex acts from school libraries and classrooms.

There has been a wave of similar legislation around the country, typically from Republican lawmakers who say the laws are designed to affirm parents’ rights and protect children. The laws often seek to prohibit discussion of gender and sexual orientation issues, ban treatments such as puberty blockers for transgender children, and restrict the use of restrooms in schools.

Many of the laws have prompted court challenges.

Earlier this month, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ordered the return of eight books dealing with subjects including racism and transgender issues to library shelves in a rural Texas county. Llano County had 17 total books from a library in Kingsland in an ongoing book-banning controversy.