Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants Texas to replicate the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” Florida law and regulate school libraries during the next session.
In a campaign email as part of his reelection bid, Patrick said such legislation will be a priority for his office. The email came late Monday after he laid out roughly 80 priorities that he wants lawmakers to study before the next legislative session.
In the email, which begins with a tirade against Disney, Patrick wrote he was angry with the company because it pushed back against Florida law, which he characterized as mandating “schools cannot sexualize children in elementary school.”
“I will make this law a top priority in the next session,” Patrick, a Republican, wrote. “This issue will be addressed in our interim Education Committee hearings under Parental Rights.”
Patrick wants state senators to tackle a broad set of charges before the 2023 session, asking them to make recommendations to address school library books, academic tenure and other education culture war issues.
But this campaign pledge escalates, and elaborates upon, his plans for the Senate by signaling Florida will be a blueprint.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a bill into law that forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, a policy that has drawn intense national scrutiny from critics who argue it marginalizes LGBT people.
LGBT advocates, students, Democrats, the entertainment industry and the White House have dubbed the measure the “Don’t Say Gay” law. Gay rights advocates have since sued DeSantis over the law, saying in their lawsuit that “this effort to control young minds through state censorship – and to demean LGBTQ lives by denying their reality – is a grave abuse of power.”
This comes as red states, including Texas, have pushed forward efforts in recent months that alert members of the LGBT community. In recent weeks, families have gone to court to fight Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders to state agencies – including Child Protective Services – to investigate reports of transgender kids receiving gender-affirming care.
DeSantis and other Republicans have repeatedly said the new law is reasonable and that parents, not teachers, should be broaching subjects of sexual orientation and gender identity with their children.
The law went into effect just days after DeSantis signed a separate law that could restrict what books elementary schools can keep in their libraries or use for instruction.
Patrick also asked the Senate Education Committee to take stock of public schools’ policies for how titles end up in campus libraries, specifically asking the lawmakers to recommend measures that would ensure all library materials are age-appropriate and that parents have a way to publicly search through them.
Patrick’s charge comes as the culture war over what students read continues to swell.
Conservative state leaders have repeatedly attempted to label titles about gender and sexuality as “pornographic” and are urging districts to purge their buildings of them. Also under scrutiny are many books about America’s history of racism and stories that center on Black characters or people of color.
A spokesman for Patrick was not immediately available for comment. In a statement on the interim charges he laid out, Patrick noted that they “reflect my priorities, the priorities Texans shared with me as I traveled the state and those of the members of the Texas Senate.”
Education advocates have denounced statewide efforts to restrict access to books as a partisan attack on diverse stories that help children learn about themselves and those different from them.
Last month, a group of Texas House Republicans sent a letter asking districts to pledge they will not partner with book vendors that supply “pornographic materials” to campuses.
Abbott, who is also seeking reelection, had previously directed the State Board of Education and Texas’ library and archives commission to develop standards to prevent the presence of “pornography and other obscene content” in schools.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the American Library Association released a new report highlighting an unprecedented number of book ban attempts. Most targeted books, the association found, were written by or about Black or LGBT people.
Several North Texas school districts have removed books from libraries under pressure from state leadership.
It’s part of a troubling trend, civil rights groups warn.
The ACLU of Texas, for example, recently sent a letter to Granbury ISD leaders accusing them of violating students’ First Amendment rights by disappearing books off library shelves. Keller ISD is under a Texas Education Agency investigation after a complaint about library books with “sexually explicit content.” They’ve been reviewing dozens of challenged books behind closed doors.
A coalition of organizations also recently launched a “Teach the Truth” campaign to oppose book ban attempts in Texas.
Patrick also wants state senators to look for ways to give parents the ability to “exert a greater influence on their child’s learning environment.” This comes as conservative leaders have taken up “parents’ rights” as a new rallying cry.
Abbott, for example, unveiled a Parental Bill of Rights at a campaign event in North Texas during the gubernatorial primary. Some political observers see it as a way of pitting parents against teachers and turning education into a wedge issue during election season.
Patrick escalated his broadsides against tenure, too. He asked lawmakers to review academic tenure policies across Texas’ higher education landscape and investigate proposals that have worked elsewhere to eliminate tenure.
Underlying those efforts is the conservative backlash against critical race theory.
The academic framework, which probes the way policies and laws uphold systemic racism, has been co-opted by some Republican leaders and used to decry a wide swath of schools’ diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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