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New standards for the Texas Education Agency’s school library call for more parental control and input

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The Texas Education Agency released state-wide standards Monday on how school districts should eliminate and prevent “obscene content” from entering Texas public school libraries.

The agency’s model policy emphasizes that parents should play a role in how books are chosen. The agency says the districts should make the new elections easily accessible to parents. School librarians or staff should be “encouraged” to ask parents what their children can and cannot read.

The new guidelines assume that school boards have the final approval of all new books and that a book review committee should be set up if parents submit a formal “request for review”.

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To avoid “obscene” content in libraries, the agency reminded school districts that US law states that distributing inappropriate material to minors is a crime. Texas librarians, school administrators, and public education advocates have dismissed allegations that school libraries contain “inappropriate” or “pornographic” material or that they distribute such content.

Standards should be used as a guide for school district staff when developing new procedures or changing their policies for selecting or removing library books. School districts, which are largely independent government structures and run by locally elected trustees, are not required to accept the agency’s recommendations.

TEA’s new standards come about five months after Gov. Greg Abbott instructed the agency, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and the State Board of Education to develop such guidelines. In his directive, Abbott cites two memoirs about LGBTQ characters, which include graphic images and descriptions of sex that have been found in some Texas school libraries.

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“There have been several recent cases of finding inappropriate materials in school libraries,” said TEA Commissioner Mike Morat. Monday in a letter to Abbott. “This model policy of local school boards will serve as a useful guide for school boards as they create policies for their school district libraries.

In a letter Monday, Morat said his agency had worked with the state’s Library and Archives Committee and the SBOE chairman to develop guidelines.

As most school districts have existing policies on how books are selected or removed, it was not immediately clear on Monday how this guide would affect individual school libraries.

Shannon Holmes, executive director of the Texas Association of Professional Teachers, warned school district officials to be careful what policies they choose to adopt. Holmes said they should listen to their communities and not be distracted from politics around the situation.

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“As we have said, since these latest book disputes began, elected school boards have had the means for decades to work with teachers and parents to determine what library content meets the needs of their local communities,” Holmes said.

Barry Perez, a spokesman for the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, the state’s fourth-largest district, said staff there still did not know if the guidelines would affect them. But he said the county already has long-standing protocols for dealing with concerns about books or any teaching materials.

“We will continue to follow these protocols and address any specific issues on a case-by-case basis, with careful consideration of students’ interests, age, maturity and level of reading skills,” Perez said in a statement.

TEA was focused on setting such standards after state parents caught Abbott’s attention as they called for certain sex books to be removed from school libraries. As Abbott seeks a third term, he has made parental rights a priority in education – promising to amend a “parental rights bill” in the Texas Constitution, although parents already have countless rights when it comes to educating their children.

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Among them is “Gender Queer: Memoirs” by Maya Kobabe, which describes the author’s journey to discover their gender identity and sexual orientation. It includes several pages of explicit illustrations depicting oral sex.

Another book provoked and removed was Ashley Hope Perez’s Out of Darkness, which depicts racism in a Texas city but also refers to anal sex.

While these books were contested and discussed at school board meetings in the fall, State Representative Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, sent a list of school districts in October with about 850 books – including Kobabe’s – asking for information on how many available on their campuses.

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Krause’s list includes several books that discuss race, sexuality, and puberty. Most are written by women, people of color and LGBTQ authors.

Disclosure: The Texas Professional Teachers Association is a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a non-profit, non-partisan news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribunewith journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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New standards for the Texas Education Agency’s school library call for more parental control and input

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