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The Texas Education Agency on Monday released statewide standards for how school districts should remove and prevent “obscene content” from entering Texas public school libraries.
The agency’s model policy emphasizes that parents should play a role in book selection. The agency says districts should 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 for all new books and that a committee should be set up to review the books if parents file a formal “request for review”.
To keep “obscene” content out of libraries, the agency reminded school districts that state law makes distributing inappropriate material to minors a felony. Texas librarians, school administrators and public education advocates have denied allegations that there is “inappropriate” or “pornographic” material in school libraries or that they distribute such content.
The standards are intended to serve as a guide for school district officials when developing new procedures or modifying their policies for the selection or removal of library books. School districts, which are largely independent government entities run by locally elected trustees, are not required to adopt the agency’s recommendations.
The new TEA standards come about five months after Governor Greg Abbott asked 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 on LGBTQ characters, which include graphic images and descriptions of gender, which were found in some Texas school libraries.
“There have recently been several instances of inappropriate material being found in school libraries,” said TEA Commissioner Mike Morath. Monday in a letter at Abbott. “This sample local school board policy will serve as a useful guide for school boards when creating policies for their school district’s libraries.
In his Monday letter, Morath said his agency worked with the state Libraries and Archives Board and the president of the SBOE to develop the guidelines.
Since most school districts have existing policies on how books are selected or removed, it was not immediately clear Monday how these guidelines will affect individual school libraries.
Shannon Holmes, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, warned school district officials to be wary of the policies they decide to adopt. Holmes said they should listen to their communities and not get carried away with the politics surrounding the situation.
“As we’ve said since the beginning of these recent book controversies, elected school boards have had the means for decades to work with educators and parents to determine what library content meets the needs of their local communities.” , said Holmes.
Barry Perez, spokesman for the San Antonio-area Northside Independent School District, the state’s fourth-largest district, said officials don’t yet know if the guidelines will affect them. But he said the district already has longstanding protocols for dealing with concerns about books or any educational materials.
“We will continue to follow these protocols and address any specific concerns on a case-by-case basis and with due consideration of student interests, age, maturity and reading level,” Perez said in a statement.
The TEA was tasked with creating such standards after parents in the state came to Abbott’s attention when they demanded that certain books containing depictions of sex be removed from school libraries. As Abbott seeks a third term, he has made parental rights in education a priority issue – promising a ‘Bill of Parental Rights’ amendment to the Texas Constitution, even though parents already have a myriad of rights regarding the education of their children.
These include “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” by Maia Kobabe, which describes the author’s journey to discovering her gender identity and sexual orientation. It includes a few pages of explicit illustrations depicting oral sex.
Another challenged and suppressed book was Ashley Hope Pérez’s “Out of Darkness”, which depicts racism in a Texas town but also references anal sex.
As those books were contested and debated at school board meetings in the fall, state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, sent a list to school districts in October of some 850 books — including those from Kobabe – requesting information on the number available on their campuses.
Krause’s list includes several books that discuss race, sexuality, and puberty. Most were written by women, people of color, and LGBTQ authors.
Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators has financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune‘journalism. Find a full list here.
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