Texas suggests new library policies after Gov. Abbott lashed out on ‘pornographic’ books in schools

Texas Education Agency officials recommend school districts retool policies for acquiring, reviewing and banning library books amid a heated culture war over what students read.

On Monday, the agency issued a model policy that lays out ways parents and trustees can play a big role in deciding what’s appropriate for schools.

Increased parental oversight echoes what many conservatives are putting at the center of their election bids.

In November, Gov. Greg Abbott, who is running for reelection, called on the agency to develop standards to ensure school library books are appropriate. His request came as Republican leaders were labeling books about LGBT people as “pornographic” and railing against titles that explore the United States’ history of racism.

In response to the governor, TEA leaders unveiled the model Library Materials Policy this week that lays out ways local officials can approach the issue. The agency is recommending school boards review their suggestions and consider adjustment to their current policy – but is not mandating any action.

The policy states that the district should make the “selection process of library materials readily available for parental review, with a list of all library materials posted on-line on the district’s website.”

Each library should also keep a list of books onsite and online that shows parents what is in stock and what is in line to be purchased. Districts should also offer a semiregular “Parent Preview” before books go onto shelves.

Individual requests by parents should also be accommodated, which could include restricting access for their children to specific books.

The policy notes that before any book is added to a collection, it should be read by a library supervisor.

It also details a process to use when a parent wants to complain about a title and potentially get it removed from library shelves. The policy says districts should appoint a “reconsideration committee” within 10 days to review a book that has been challenged and determine if it’s appropriate. Everyone on the committee, according to the policy, should read the book and then vote on its outcome.

The guidance included that decisions must consider the Supreme Court’s 1982 plurality opinion, which found that local school boards cannot remove books from campus libraries solely because they do not like the ideas expressed.

Schools across Texas have been flooded with book challenges in an effort that free speech advocates say is chilling and unprecedented.

The ACLU of Texas, for example, joined other civil rights groups in labeling Granbury ISD’s process for removing books from unconstitutional libraries. The Hood County district took more than 125 books off campus library shelves – a departure from the norm there – as part of an usual probe prompted by Republican state leadership.

The Texas Education Agency guidance could help bring districts into a more uniform approach, potentially shielding them from ire.

But TEA has launched at least one investigation into a district after a complaint about library books with “sexually explicit content.” State officials are examining whether Keller ISD failed to properly review and monitor library books, leading to students having access to inappropriate content.

The model policy emphasizes that locally elected trustees would be ultimately responsible for books.

“The board will provide final approval for all new materials added to the library,” it states.

At the same time as TEA unveiled its new policy, State Board of Education Keven Ellis sent a letter to Abbott explaining the actions that his group will take on a similar front.

He said he intends to push for Texas districts to develop an Internet safety policy to protect minors from accessing pornography or other harmful content online.

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

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