TEA releases new policy on books in public schools

The Texas Education Agency has released a new policy on books that can be read in school libraries.

The TEA commissioner sent a letter to Governor Abbott on Monday --- this comes after Abbott sent his own letter to the agency to address obscene content in books.

TEA says they've worked with the Texas State Library Archives Commission and the head of the State Board of Education to develop these guidelines. It provides criteria for the selection, removal and replacement of books and it's meant to be transparent while also meeting kids' instructional needs.

The policy is also meant to guide school boards as they create their own policies for district libraries—claiming to give local control, but the guidelines themselves appear to be broad. They include:

The books should provide support and/or enrich the students' interests and learning

Meet artistic, literary or aesthetic standards

Be appropriate for the child's age

Recommendations for getting more books into libraries should involve administrators, teachers, parents and members of the community. When books are chosen, the list should be sent to the superintendent and the board.

Parents can also challenge books in the library for their appropriateness and the policy outlines the process for a parent complaint.

In the letter Commissioner of Education Mike Morath writes, "There have been several instances recently of inappropriate materials being found in school libraries. This is unacceptable and the students of Texas should not be exposed to this harmful content in their local schools." 

The model will be provided to all school systems in the state.

Canyon ISD issued a letter to staff and parents late last week concerning the new policy.

“Our district will work quickly with the proposed policy, as well as initiate a reconsideration process for challenged library books. We all agree student instructional materials and library books need to be suitable for the age level present in the school.

“The proposed policy creates an avenue for us to remove a title that does not meet our current high standards within our libraries," Canyon ISD said.

Texas Values Senior Policy Advisor Mary Castle said this will be important in making sure parents have a say in their children's education.

"We’re very elated the TEA has responded to Gov. Abbott’s plea to stop the inappropriate books being issued in libraries. Now, school districts have a clear policy on how they can address this issue, and we’re hoping school districts respond to it," Castle said. "We’ve heard from several parents around the Austin area and from different districts in Texas about certain books their kids are bringing home from the libraries that have pornographic or age inappropriate material, and they’re disappointed these kids have access to these books through the library, and parents don’t have a way to review those books because they’re not a part of regular curriculum, which the law says they have a chance to review."

Critics have slammed the state's attempts at getting rid of these books because many of the books are centered around the LGBTQ experience. 

Castle said parental involvement will help get rid of what she believes is age-inappropriate reading materials.

"They read some of these materials where actual acts are described in these books, different things that would probably have an R rating or X rating at the movies, are actually in some of these novels in the school libraries," Castle said. "Parents just want to make sure the materials their kids receive are age appropriate. The issue is what the parents want. They want parental involvement. They want to know what their kids are reading, and so far our laws have made sure our parents have that right when it comes to textbooks, and it’s ensuring they have that right with library books, as well."

Canyon ISD's assistant superintendent, Cameron Rosser, commented on the new guidance from TEA.

“We have gotten guidance from TEA in the form of local policy, as well as the guidance of various penal codes about information that could be potentially harmful to students. We do not want that kind of material for any students.

“Our job is to make sure that we provide our students a wide variety of titles and information We have to follow policy with certain selection criteria and objectives. When it comes to the new policy that the TEA is proposing, they are helping to guide us if we do have a book that is being challenged as inappropriate.

“As it stands now, we can only remove a book for being pervasively vulgar. We cannot remove books from the library based solely on the ideas and the opinions expressed in the book. If there is content in the book with something that someone disagrees with, does not mean I can remove it. I must make sure that we provide a wide range of information on topics for our students," Rosser said.

Amarillo ISD did not respond to our request for comment. 

TEA’s new standards come five months after Gov. Abbott directed that agency, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and State Board of Education to develop such guidelines. In his directive, Abbott cited two books which include graphic images and descriptions of sex, that were found in some Texas school libraries.

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