The Texas Education Agency’s new school library standards push for more control and parental input

TEXAS — The Texas Education Agency on Monday released statewide standards for how school districts should remove “obscene content” and prevent it from entering Texas public school libraries.

The video above is from a previous report.

The agency’s model policy emphasizes that parents should play a role in the selection of books. The agency says districts should make new selections easily accessible for parents to review. School librarians or staff should be “encouraged” to ask parents what their children can and cannot read.

The new guidelines propose that school boards give final approval to all new books and that a committee should be set up to review books when parents make a formal “request for review.”

To avoid “obscene” content in libraries, the agency reminded school districts that state law states that distributing inappropriate materials to minors is a crime. Texas librarians, school administrators and advocates for public education have denied allegations that school libraries have “inappropriate” or “pornographic” material or that they distribute such content.

The standards are intended to be used as a guide for school district officials when developing new procedures or changing their policies for the selection or removal of library books. School districts, which are largely independent government entities and governed by locally elected trustees, are not required to adopt the agency’s recommendations.

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The TEA’s new standards come about five months after Governor Greg Abbott directed that agency, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, and the State Board of Education to develop such guidelines. In his statement, Abbott cited two memoirs about LGBTQ characters that contain graphic images and gender descriptions found in some Texas school libraries.

“There have been several recent instances where inappropriate materials have been found in school libraries,” said TEA Officer Mike Morath Monday in a letter to Dept. “This best practice local school board policy will serve as a helpful guide for school boards as they prepare policies for their school district libraries.”

In his Monday letter, Morath said his agency worked with the state’s Library and Archives Commission and the SBOE chairman to develop the guidelines.

Because most school districts have existing policies for selecting or removing books, it wasn’t immediately clear as of Monday how that guidance will affect individual school libraries.

Shannon Holmes, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, warned school district officials to be careful about what policies they use. Holmes said they should listen to their communities and not get carried away with the politics surrounding the situation.

“As we’ve said since these recent book controversies began, elected school boards have had the tools for decades to work with educators and parents to determine what library content meets the needs of their local communities,” Holmes said.

Barry Perez, spokesman for the Northside Independent School District in the San Antonio region, the state’s fourth-largest district, said officials there don’t yet know if the guidelines would affect them. But he said the district already has long-established protocols to address concerns about books or educational materials.

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“We will continue to follow these protocols and will address any specific concerns on a case-by-case basis and with careful consideration of students’ interests, age, maturity and reading ability level,” Perez said in a statement.

The TEA was ordered to create such standards after parents across the state drew Abbott’s attention when they called for certain books depicting sex to be removed from school libraries. As Abbott seeks a third term, he has made parental rights in education a priority and promised a Parental Bill of Rights to amend the Texas Constitution, even though parents already have a variety of rights when it comes to their education children goes.

These include Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, which charts the author’s journey to discovering her gender identity and sexual orientation. It contains some pages with explicit illustrations depicting oral sex.

Another contested and removed book was Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez, which depicts racism in a Texas town but also makes reference to anal sex.

While those books were questioned and debated at school board meetings that fall, State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, sent a list of about 850 books — including Kobabes — to school districts in October, asking for information on how many available on their campus.

Krause’s list includes several books dealing with race, sexuality, and puberty. Most were written by women, people of color, and LGBTQ authors.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that educates and collaborates with Texans on public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. The Texas Education Agency’s new school library standards push for more control and parental input

Dais Johnston

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