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Texas Leaders Approve School Library Rules Amid Ongoing Fight About Inappropriate Books

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By Talia Richman
The Dallas Morning News

(The Dallas Morning News) Texas school libraries must have policies to prohibit the possession or purchase of books determined to be “sexually explicit.” online news

The State Board of Education on Wednesday signed off on guidelines for school library rules, giving their approval ahead of a looming Jan. 1 deadline. The move comes after years of acrimony over what books belong on campuses, with conservative politicians and parents calling for a crackdown on titles they view as inappropriate.

“It was a work of deep value and importance to bring the library standards to fruition. In Texas, parents have been identifying this issue to schools without the necessary support of law,” said SBOE member Audrey Young, a Trinity Republican who chairs the committee on instruction.

Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, celebrated the approval of standards to bring schools into compliance with a law he championed this year.

“To be very clear, the work before you is critically important,” he said in a letter to state board members. “The materials I personally fought are outrageous and so explicit in nature that news programs could not even show the images on screen or read the passages over the radio due to FCC standards.”

Many of the books that landed in the crosshairs involved LGBTQ storylines or centered diverse characters. A PEN America report found Texas had removed more books from school libraries than in any other state. Roughly 800 books — many delving into themes of race, sexuality and gender — were pulled between July 2021 and June 2022.

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The READER Act, sponsored by Patterson, requires vendors that sell books to school libraries issue “ratings” for titles if they contain sexual content. The bill prohibits a vendor from selling library books that are rated sexually explicit.

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A group of book vendors and associations is challenging the law in court, arguing it is too broad and vague. Its future remains unclear.

“The full implementation of the Book Ban will cause a recall of many books in K-12 public schools, bans of even more, and the establishment of an unconstitutional — and unprecedented — state-wide book licensing regime that compels private companies and individuals to adopt the state’s messages or face government punishment,” the lawsuit reads.

The State Board of Education gave its blessing to the proposed standards for school libraries to follow. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission must still adopt it, but they won’t be changing the document, SBOE members said.

Mary Elizabeth Castle, with the conservative group Texas Values, said the guidelines must align closely with Patterson’s law.
“Having guidance from you – from the State Board of Education – will help make sure that the law is correctly applied and that we can efficiently address this issue of inappropriate books in the school library,” she said.

Each of Texas’ more than 1,000 districts must approve a policy that lays out the process by which school libraries acquire materials.

The policy must include a process to determine if students can access material rated as “sexually relevant,” according to the guidelines. It also must include a way for parents to access the library catalog.

The SBOE’s decision came at the end of a marathon day of discussion, in which the politicization of education issues in Texas was stark. The 15-member body moved further to the right after the 2022 election.

Students and parents waited hours to testify. One mother said she brought a passage from a book that depicted a sex scene; she urged the board to pass the standards and protect children’s minds from such content.

A Fort Worth-area high schooler, meanwhile, implored the board to consider the magnitude of their decision around what stories fellow students can access.

Patterson’s book law “looms over us, casting a shadow on our right to explore the vast realms of literature freely,” Da’Taeveyon Daniels said.

©2023 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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