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Libraries and Montana code on sex education

November 16, 2022 7:46 PM | Anonymous

Montana Senate Bill 99, establishing parameters for K-12 human sexuality education, became law in April 2021. The bill passed both the MT Senate and the House with flying colors.

SB 99 isn’t a bill anymore – it’s law (20-7-120 MCA). Still, it’s commonly referred to as SB 99 and attached is MFPE’s helpful fact sheet on what the bill does and does not mean as well as what the bill might mean to you. As helpful as this information is, neither the bill nor the fact sheet answers our big question, “What about libraries?”  

The new law defines human sexuality instruction broadly: “For purposes of this section, ‘human sexuality instruction’ means teaching or otherwise providing information about human sexuality, including intimate relationships, human sexual anatomy, sexual reproduction, sexually transmitted infections, sexual acts, sexual orientation, gender identity, abstinence, contraception, or reproductive rights and responsibilities.”

Librarians worry that this law could be applied to many, if not most, materials in a school library.

In an article by Liz Weber appearing in the Bozeman Chronicle, Superintendent of Bozeman Public Schools, Casey Bertram, doesn’t seem to share this concern. He expresses uncertainty regarding the broadened definition of human sexuality instruction, but he speaks about the law as though it only pertains to curriculum. The heading in large print above MCA 20-7-120 supports the interpretation that this law exclusively pertains to curricular materials: “Excused Absences From Curriculum Requirements -- Notice -- Prohibited Activities.

Most schools do draw distinctions between curricular materials and library materials. There are usually different reconsideration policies and processes for library materials and for curricular materials. Material that is removed from the curriculum isn’t necessarily removed from the library. Schools have long acknowledged that requiring all students to read a book is fundamentally different from having a book available for voluntary check-out from the library.

Then again, in a recent Daily Inter Lake article by Hilary Matheson, Kalispell Superintendent Micah Hill doesn't seem to interpret the law as applicable to only curriculum.

For now, we are all left to wonder what is meant by, “otherwise providing information about.” Embedded in law, the phrase hangs there, undefined and untested. 

Please reply to this post and let MLA know about the impacts of SB 99 on your job or your library. 

SB 99 Finalized Fact Sheet (002).pdf

Anne Kish, MLIS  |  Library Director / Associate Professor
The University of Montana Western

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