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The Texas Education Agency published state standards Monday on how school districts must remove and prevent “obscene content” from entering Texas public school libraries.
In the agency’s model policy, it is emphasized that parents should have a role in how books are selected. The agency says districts must make the new selections readily available for parents to review. Librarians or school staff should be “encouraged” to ask parents what their children can and cannot read.
The new guidelines suggest that school boards have final approval of all new books and that a committee should be established to review the books if parents file a formal “request for reconsideration.”
To prevent “obscene” content in libraries, the agency reminded school districts that state law makes it a crime to give inappropriate materials to minors. Texas librarians, school administrators and public education advocates have denied accusations that there are “inappropriate” or “pornographic” materials in school libraries or that they are distributing such content.
The standards should be used as a guide for school district officials as they develop new procedures or modify their policies for selecting and checking out library books. School districts, which are largely independent government entities and run by locally elected administrators, are not required to adopt the agency’s recommendations.
The new TEA standards come about five months after Gov. Greg Abbott directed the agency, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and the State Board of Education to develop such guidelines. In his directive, Abbott cited two memoirs about LGBTQ characters, including graphic images and descriptions of sex, that were found in some Texas school libraries.
“There have been several recent cases of inappropriate materials found in school libraries,” said TEA Commissioner Mike Morath. Monday in a letter to Abbot. “This sample local school board policy will serve as a helpful guide for school boards as they create policies for their school district libraries.”
In his letter Monday, Morath said his agency worked with the state library and archives commission and the SBOE chairman to develop the guidelines.
As most school districts have existing policies on how books are selected or withdrawn, it was not immediately clear on Monday how this guidance will affect individual school libraries.
Shannon Holmes, executive director of the Texas Association of Professional Educators, warned school district officials to be careful about the policies they decide to adopt. Holmes said they should listen to their communities and not be swayed by the politics surrounding the situation.
“As we have said since these latest book controversies began, elected school boards have for decades had the means to work with educators and parents to determine what library content meets the needs of their local communities,” Holmes said.
Barry Perez, a spokesman for the San Antonio-area Northside Independent School District, the state’s fourth-largest district, said officials don’t yet know if the guidance will affect them. But he said the district already has long-standing protocols in place to address concerns about books or any instructional materials.
“We will continue to follow these protocols and address any specific concerns on a case-by-case basis and with careful consideration of students’ interests, age, maturity, and reading skill level,” Perez said in a statement.
The TEA moved to create such standards after parents across the state came to Abbott’s attention when they called for certain books with depictions of sex to be removed from school libraries. As Abbott seeks a third term in office, he has made parental rights in education a top issue, promising a “parental bill of rights” amendment to the Texas Constitution even though parents already They have a lot of rights when it comes to their children’s education.
These include “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, which describes the author’s journey to discover her gender identity and sexual orientation. Includes a few pages of explicit illustrations showing oral sex.
Another book challenged and removed was Ashley Hope Pérez’s “Out of Darkness,” which depicts racism in a Texas town but also references anal sex.
While these books were being questioned and debated at school board meetings this fall, state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, sent a list to school districts in October of some 850 books, including Kobabe’s, requesting information on how many are available on their campuses.
Krause’s list includes several books dealing with race, sexuality, and puberty. Most were written by women, people of color, and LGBTQ authors.
Disclosure: The Texas Association of Professional Educators has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial sponsors play no role in the Tribune‘journalism Find a full list of them here.
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