State Senator Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) introduced legislation that would exempt teachers from the state requirement of cataloging books in their personal classroom libraries in a manner that would not undermine current law as it applies to school libraries.

According to Yarbro’s legislation, if passed into law, this bill would free teachers up while creating a policy that ensures parents and legal guardians have multiple opportunities throughout the school year to view books in their student’s classroom libraries. Also, a provision prohibits teachers from knowingly or intentionally using their classroom libraries to circumvent the current law. This ensures that inappropriate books for the school’s library can not be included in classroom libraries.

In an email exchange, the state senator told The Tennessee Star, “Our elementary school teachers have enough work to do without the legislature imposing the bureaucratic burden to catalog every book they have in their classrooms to help students learn to read.”

State Education Chair John Lundberg (R- Bristol) agreed with Yarbro’s assessment. Lundberg told The Star, “The intent of the legislation was to protect kids, not to add to the burden of teachers. This amendment seems to address both issues in a reasonable manner.”

The proposed amendment passed out of State Senate Education Committee unanimously.

The original bill did not call for the inclusion of classroom libraries; instead, it employed a broad definition of  “materials made available to students by a school operated by an LEA or by a public charter school.” It excluded any materials made available to students as part of a course curriculum.”

School districts were initially under the impression that the law only applied to school libraries. The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) broadened that definition to include any materials not included in the curriculum — regardless of where they’re located in a school. Teachers, especially in the lower grades, often have extensive classroom libraries with hundreds of books. To meet the mandate put forth by the TDOE interpretation, teachers used personal time to reach compliance. In response to the added requirement, many teachers chose to disassemble their classroom libraries.

Cheryl Helie, a fourth-grade teacher at Luttrell Elementary, told WBIR back in August that she has more than 1,500 books in her personal classroom library. She told the television statement that she went to work on a Saturday to begin inventorying books, but was only able to complete around half the job.

“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.”

Yarbro said he hopes his amendment will allow teachers to retain their classroom libraries; in presenting his amendment to the education committee, Yarbro indicated that he worked with Republican committee members in crafting an amendment that helped teachers while not exempting any materials from parental and community review.

“We can disagree on the books policy, while agreeing that imposing an unfunded mandate and administrative hoops for classroom teachers to jump through just doesn’t make any sense,” he told The Star.

Yarbro recently announced his intent to seek office as mayor of Nashville by declaring for the upcoming city election.

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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.
Photo “Jeff Yarbro” by Sen. Jeff Yarbro. Background Photo “Classroom” by Wokandapix.