Internet Decries Book 'Censorship' After Teacher Shares Impact of State Law

In a now-viral video, a Tennessee teacher said her students can't read the books in her classroom library until they've been properly vetted.

The video was posted to TikTok on Saturday by Sydney Rawls, who wrote: "Tennessee teachers can relate." It has amassed 1.7 million views and thousands of comments from viewers who agreed that it's a "sad time to be a teacher."

'Age-appropriate' Books

Effective in April, Tennessee legislators passed the Age-Appropriate Materials Act, which requires public schools to "post online a list of the materials in their libraries" for parents to review, said the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus.

"This [act] simply sets forth a framework for all of our public school libraries to use to make sure parents and other stakeholders, including teachers and school board members, have a way to find out what is in the public school libraries," said Senate Majority Leader and act sponsor Jack Johnson prior to the passing of the bill. "This [act] ensures public school libraries contain only materials that are age-appropriate for students across Tennessee."

Kids reading in classroom
Here, a stock photo of children reading books in a classroom. In a now-viral video, a Tennessee teacher said her students can't read the books in her classroom library until they've been properly vetted. monkeybusinessimages/istock

Though Johnson said the act does not "ban any book," the law does require that if a school finds a book is "not age-appropriate based on student, parental or employee feedback, then the school would have to remove it," the Senate Republican Caucus explained.

"This [act] sends a message that the General Assembly believes in the ability of parents to know and to be able to review those materials in a library and then have an appropriate framework through which they can provide feedback," Johnson said.

In April, the state's House also passed a bill that would require school districts to submit lists of library books to the State Textbook Commission for approval.

Rawls's Viral TikTok

In her video, filmed on a Saturday, Rawls said she was working hard to catalog her library so that her students could read during class.

"The kids want to read books," she said. "If they finish early or something, they're asking, 'Can I go get a book to read?' and I have to say, 'No, you can't.'"

Before she can say yes, Rawls said she has to compile a list of every book in her collection and send it off to the school's librarian for approval. Books that are rejected must be removed from the classroom and those that are approved must then be posted online for parents to see, "in case they want to chime in about the books that are in [her] classroom."

Only after the parents have provided their feedback can Rawls's students grab a book from the shelf, she said.

Viewers React

Viewers criticized the process, calling it "censorship," and many sent their sympathies to Rawls.

"Oh hell no! I am so sorry," Tj Shaffer commented.

"Censorship but make it exhausting," Gay Jesus- King of Queens said of the process.

"Every day the school system is less and less a place for kids/teachers to thrive. I'm so sorry you're having to do this," Jenn Hoskins said.

"I'm so very sorry that you are having to deal with this nonsense. Exposure to things outside of one's immediate self is so very important for growth!" Lil Momma Hayes said.

"I believe my 23 years of accumulating books for my classroom would suddenly disappear. Sad times to be a teacher," Lori Tollefson said.

Newsweek reached out to Sydney Rawls for comment.

Other Viral Moments

Rawls isn't the first teacher to go viral on TikTok.

Last week, a teacher sparked an online debate after she posted a video of her nearly-empty classroom.

In April, a teacher went viral for revealing her classroom's "secret hideout."

And in January, a teacher ran viewers through her workday in a viral video with over 336,000 views.