North East ISD recovers more than 400 library books for examination, following investigation by lawmakers

One of Texas’ largest school districts is removing more than 400 books from its shelves for review after a Republican state lawmaker flagged them as inappropriate.

The investigation launched by the North East Independent School District in San Antonio is the most ambitious response to date to pressure from lawmakers and Governor Greg Abbott to review school library books dealing with issues of sexuality and systemic racism . Already, the district says it has identified books with graphic sexual content that is unsuitable for students 18 and under.

The titles of the books have been temporarily removed from the NEISD online catalog and an eBook and audio book app available to students, and school librarians are removing the volumes but can replenish them as needed as they go. review is continuing, school officials said. The examination does not cover books kept in classrooms.

Abbott last month ordered the Texas Education Agency and other agencies to develop a statewide standard to prevent “pornography and other obscene material” from entering public schools after controversies in a number of school districts about books on LGBT characters that include sexually explicit pictures and descriptions.

The removal of books from ISD Northeast libraries has sparked outrage from some students and community members who decry the effort as censorship that will marginalize minority and LGBT students. a online petition launched by students on Friday opposed to the decision has so far collected more than 800 signatures.

State Representative Matt Krause, chairman of the House General Inquiry Committee, interviewed a number of large and mid-sized school districts about 800 individual titles that he said should be removed from campuses because their broadcasting could violate new state laws governing sexuality. and race are discussed in Texas classrooms.

A Hearst Newspapers review last month found that the majority of books on Krause’s list were about LGBT issues, and a Dallas Morning News report found that many were written by women, people of color or LGBTQ perpetrators.

“Our literature and the stories in our school libraries need to reflect diversity simply because it is the truth of the world we live in. It is the truth and the reality of the student body in our schools,” said one student, who identifies as bisexual, wrote in a public Instagram post. “This is a blatant act of racism and homophobia on the part of NEISD, with no regard for their own students.”

NEISD spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor said the district was reviewing 414 books that were on the list of Krause and others interviewed by parents and community members or mentioned in the media “out of caution” and for “Make sure they didn’t have any obscene or vulgar content. in them.

The 67 librarians in the district are asked to ensure that the books follow the school selection policy, which has been established by the school board.

“Most of them are appropriate and will remain as they are on our library shelves; However, some may contain content that requires further consideration to ensure books are accessible based on age, ”the Chancellor said. “For us, it’s not about politics or censorship, but rather about making sure parents choose what is right for their minor children.”

About 100 books were put back on the shelves, said the Chancellor, who added that the district found that some publishers had “mis-coded” books as appropriate when “some of the contents of the books were certainly not appropriate. for young students or even high school students ”because of the graphic sexual content.

It is not known how long the NEISD exam will take, although the school district has made library-related journals and other resources and staff available to assist librarians.

The district also plans to form a book review committee to determine which books should be placed in a separate section of the library, as well as an electronic tool that will allow parents to see which library books their children are viewing, said. the chancellor.

Some teachers and librarians wondered why the review did not follow the normal process for responding to complaints about educational resources. An informal complaint would generally be dealt with through a conversation with professional staff, while a formal complaint would result in review by a “reconsideration committee” appointed by the director. In this case, the district has instead decided to be “proactive,” said the chancellor.

Critics also said the books generally remain on the shelves during the district’s complaint review process.

“In cases like these, it’s seen as a book that has been challenged,” the chancellor said. “In our process that we are currently conducting, it is an audit and it is happening much more quickly. “

According to district records obtained by Hearst Newspapers, since 2007, the district has never deleted or moved to a different level more than a few books per year, with the exception of several college library books within a single series in 2012 rated best for high school students.

Krause did not respond to a request for comment. A letter he wrote only asked districts to confirm whether they were carrying certain books and did not require them to get rid of the books. Most of the state’s largest school districts did not conduct the review, saying the request was informal and did not require a response, although many provided Krause with copies of their complaint and removal policies. of books.

Sara Robles Chicote, a 17-year-old high school student at Reagan High School, said she was shocked to learn that the censorship she had read in history books was, at least temporarily, becoming a reality in her school district. She was particularly troubled by the themes of the books in question – indigenous and minority groups, sexual consent, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases – and posted about them on Instagram on Friday.

“Students are not already receiving proper sex education classes, which leaves them with few options for gaining knowledge on how to practice safe sex,” she wrote in her article. “What is it and why do we favor a reduction in education?” “

Robles added in an interview that she felt the review of the books on the list was political and hypocritical in nature. One of the books on the list, “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, is a book she has read and enjoyed and which deals with a dystopian society in which women are deprived of their rights and used for ends. reproductive. Yet second-year students at his school regularly read another dystopian book, “1984” by George Orwell, which describes an intellectually oppressed society.

“What is different about these books where one is forbidden and the other is not?” It was written by a woman and it is directly about women, ”she said.

Texas schools need to walk a fine line when navigating a Supreme Court precedent regarding the removal of books from libraries, according to the Texas Association of School Boards.

“The withdrawal, rather than the selection, of library books raises constitutional issues,” the organization said. in his advice to board members. “Although school officials retain significant discretion over the content of the school library, state and local government discretion cannot be exercised in a manner that violates the liberty rights of the public. expression of students by removing books for partisan or political reasons. “

Yet, in consultation with lawyers, administrators and their councils, districts can legally remove a resource “because it has no educational value or contains vulgar content.” They can take into account the age, maturity and “impressionability” of the students.

“Districts should work closely with their school lawyer and proceed with caution given the significant risk of a First Amendment challenge,” the guide says.

Christine Emeran, program director at the National Coalition Against Censorship, a New York-based alliance of 50 U.S. nonprofits, said schools have an obligation to keep politics out of decision-making.

“The books were originally chosen on the basis of some sort of literary, educational, or other professional criteria. Thus, deleting them at the request of a complainant favors the complainant’s point of view. One could, quite easily, continually complain about books that they didn’t like to keep removed from the shelves, making them more difficult to access during the review process, ”said Nora Pelizzari, Director of Communications of the group.

“The process should sin on the access side, not the censorship side. “

Editors Claire Bryan and Libby Seline contributed to this report.

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