In a letter that began with a nod to Texas parents concerned about sexually explicit books in school libraries, Abbott asked TASB to ensure transparency in the book collection process.
“Parents have the right to shield their children from obscene content used in schools their children attend. They are right that Texas public schools should not provide or promote pornographic or obscene material to students,” Abbott wrote.
“[E]ach of our schools should have an appropriate and transparent process to vet library materials before they are used. You should have an obligation to Texas parents and students to ensure that no child in Texas is exposed to pornography or other inappropriate content while inside a Texas public schools.”
As Abbott notes, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission sets the standards for public school libraries. For the most part, these standards do not regulate content.
Although this state agency guides local libraries, the books they collect are ultimately up to the district. Hence, Abbott’s letter asks TASB to voluntarily encourage a vetting process.
TASB responded on November 3, asking Abbott to direct his request to the State Board of Education or the Texas Education Agency.
“[W]e want to make clear that TASB has no regulatory authority over school districts and does not set the standards for instructional materials, including library books. Rather, we are a private, non-profit membership organization focused on supporting school governance and providing cost-effective services to school districts,” the group’s response reads.
“Taht duty appears to apply to the SBOE, which sets policy and standards for Texas public schools that the TEA, in turn, implements and monitors. Specifically, the SBOE’s Committee on Instruction has library standards listed as one of its nine areas of focus.”
The back-and-forth follows an investigation launched by state Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) into the book collections of Texas public schools. Acting as head of the General Investigating Committee of the state House, Krause asked the Texas Education Agency for a complete accounting of a long list of books in school libraries that supposedly include racially charged or sexually graphic content.
The Austin Independent School District was reportedly the first to deny Krause’s request for information. A search of the district’s library catalog shows that it keeps several copies of some books on Krause’s list, including the graphic novel Gender Queer. The sex scenes in Gender Queer stirred local controversy after parents said they found it on the shelves of a Texas school library.
Unlike Krause, Abbott avoided the topic of race in his letter, solely focusing on obscenity.
Krause’s letter borrowed language from the first version of a newly passed law meant to stop “inculcation” of critical race theory in Texas public schools. While this law does not regulate or even mention libraries, it does make an effort to increase transparency in the learning process by requiring public school teachers to give parents access to their children’s learning materials.
TASB has faced pressure in the past month from Republican lawmakers to leave the National School Boards Association (NSBA) after the group sent a letter to the Biden administration that likened parents concerned about critical race theory to domestic terrorists, prompting federal law enforcement to devote new attention to school board meetings. TASB distanced itself from NSBA’s effort.
Update:This article has been updated to include TASB’s response.
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