Opponents of the review call it an ideological effort. Some proponents say it didn’t go far enough.
All are grappling with the task of interpreting complex issues in a limited timeframe.
State Officials’ Involvement
Although some parents have raised concerns about them for years, state Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) pulled the issue of library books into the middle of the state’s political fray when he asked Texas school systems in October to report the number and cost of certain books deemed politically controversial in their libraries. Acting as head of the Texas House General Investigating Committee, Krause — also running for Texas attorney general at the time — produced a 16-page list of books that he called sexually explicit or racially preferential and called on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to find out how many copies were in Texas public school libraries and what price schools paid for them.
Governor Greg Abbott soon picked up the issue, eventually asking the TEA, State Board of Education (SBOE), and State Library and Archives Commission to work on a vetting process to keep pornographic material out of school libraries and classroom materials.
However, Texas law grants broad authority to local school systems. State officials ultimately have little say about which books make it into libraries. As a result, some school systems voluntarily began reviewing their books, and others did not.
Granbury ISD pulled 131 books from shelves for review but ultimately removed five, a decision that put Granbury ISD superintendent Jeremy Glenn between a rock and a hard place.
The Review Process
Granbury ISD’s review process drew a wave of accusations that it targeted transgender people. In response, Glenn defended the district’s choice to remove five books by young adult fiction writer Abbi Glines for “explicitness.”
“Unlike you,” Glenn told critics, “I’ve actually read what’s in those books, and I’m proud that they’ve been removed from our shelves.”
Though the media attention eventually fizzled down, controversy at the North Texas district still smolders. Citizens testified on the same topic at a board meeting last week, navigating the same arguments.
Hood County Democratic Party Chair Adrienne Martin accused the board of chasing a “fictional boogeyman” and said the school board has overlooked and possibly contributed to bullying of LGBT students.
“Like most Democrats, I’m a supporter of public education, and I deeply believe in the Democratic values of equality, inclusion, and diversity. In my opinion, this board and superintendent have proven they do not support these values,” Martin said.
On the other side of the aisle, some members of the committee that was formed to review Granbury ISD’s library collection say the district sped through the process and fast-tracked almost all of the books back onto library shelves.
Monica Brown, a citizen who has taken a particular interest in the issue, said the district spent very little time reviewing most of the books.
“In those two meetings, they approved 100 books to put back on the shelves. And when you look at it, the meetings were less than 3 hours each. So there was no more than 4 minutes per book on average to even think about them,” Brown said.
Another committee member, Karen Lowery, supported Brown’s assessment of the meetings.
“They assigned 10 books to two people and we were to go through them, look at some reviews that they had provided, look at the book that was there, look at the cover. They gave us about 20 minutes to go through 10 books, and then we would take our ten books and kind of give a brief description about them,” Lowery said.
“They put the books back and then when Monica came, we both really started siding together and working together and we started doing in-depth book reviews: looking them up, looking where you could borrow them online for a while, and researching exactly what was in these books. And when we did, we were astounded and disgusted that these kinds of books were in the school libraries.”
According to numbers provided by the district, 116 of the 131 suspected books were returned to shelves.
However, involved citizens say Glenn’s efforts are sincere.
Granbury mayor Jim Jarratt, who has spoken on the issue at school board meetings as an individual, says he spoke to Glenn on Monday and said he is working with Brown and other citizens on a plan.
“He’s a man that wants to not have this kind of stuff in school,” Jarratt said.
The greater obstacle is time. Brown concedes the enormity of the task of reviewing every book in the library but envisions a clearer process for choosing books in the first place.
“I think that’s a great question,” Brown said when asked what the ideal book review process would involve.
“So there has to be a better evaluation process, and it has to be really clear. So there must be educational value. There obviously can’t be sexually explicit [material]. And then to remove it, school boards are responsible, from what we understand.”
Lowery answered similarly, noting that honest, comprehensive review requires a depth that people define differently.
“It’s a hard thing to say because there are ways that would be good but this is something that will take time. You’re going to have to go through the libraries. You’re going to have to look at these books. Some people may want to read them cover to cover,” Lowery said.
“It has to be a better process than it was with this first review committee. Books have to be looked at, they have to be taken home. You have to be able to look through each page and read a little bit of them and see what exactly is in the book.”
Brown attempts to gauge books the same way movies are rated, assigning PG-13 ratings to books that have inexplicit nudity or drug use, for example. The original list of books pulled for review in the district may be read here.
The quality of the challenged books further complicates the review process.
Some of the books seem to squarely inhabit the less ambitious corners of young adult fiction, such as Kathleen Johnson’s 176-page novel Gone, beset by mediocre reviews and pitched primarily — even by Booklist — as a steamy thriller: “Johnson’s overly poetic voice frequently intrudes. Still, teens will be drawn by the racy cover photo,” the American Library Association enthuses.
Others, such as Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, are widely regarded as literary masterpieces.
Neither Glenn nor Granbury ISD curriculum director Stacie Brown, who helms the book review committee, responded to requests for comment.
‘We’re not banning and we’re not burning books.’
The citizens calling for more stringent review say they’re frustrated with how opponents have characterized them.
“We’re not banning and we’re not burning books. We’re just trying to say, let’s put a boundary on these books,” Lowery said.
“These are totally inappropriate for children. So review them before they go into the library.”
Brown said she appreciates diversity and would actually like to see more books added to the library.
“There’s some great books that are not on their shelves,” Brown said.
“So that’s something I’m trying to do, too, is get books in. And not just me. Many others are saying, ‘Let’s go and change the narrative. Let’s talk about the things that we can have these conversations with kids about, and read the book and talk about it.’”
Brown emphasized that many of the books she would like to see removed do not depict LGBT relationships, insisting that she focuses on how much a given book reveals as opposed to the kind of relationship it describes.
Hood County Democratic Party President Mendi Tackett, who has also watched this issue closely, did not respond for comment.
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