Bigger problems than books? Texas parents split on what lawmakers should be focused on

Texas

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — This week, Governor Greg Abbott directed the Texas Education Agency, State Board of Education and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to establish statewide standards for books found in our public school libraries.

Governor Abbott said it’s an effort to prevent the presence of “pornography and obscene content” in public school libraries. He cites three recent instances at Texas schools, including one book found at a Keller ISD library.

“At first, I was just disappointed and disgusted. And then I grew angry,” said Kathy May. She has two kids attending Timber Creek High School in Keller ISD and said she first learned of the book “Gender Queer” present at that library via text.

“She was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s literal porn at Keller,’ and I was like, ‘What?’ And she sent me the pictures were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, there is,’” May explained.

“Gender Queer” is an autobiographical comic book of the author’s teenage life, featuring several pages of explicit sexual content.

“That’s not okay. I don’t want my kid seeing that,” she said.

But other parents don’t share the same level of concern.

Shane Hardin, who has two daughters at Keller ISD, said he thinks the book is being used as a political ploy, especially since the school has already removed it.

“When you first look at it, it is jarring. But you also have to acknowledge the context,” Hardin said. “The book controversy is a very thinly veiled attempt to bully LGBTQ kids.”

He also pointed out that some of State Rep. Matt Krause’s constituents attend Keller ISD schools. Krause is the Republican lawmaker who launched an investigation last month into nearly 850 books in Texas libraries.

Hardin said the state should be focusing its resources on other issues.

“Our kids are behind due to the pandemic, and we’re worrying about pulling books that could be helpful to LGBTQ kids,” Hardin said.

School districts, along with state agencies, are already working hard to make up for the COVID learning slide.

“We only have so much bandwidth, right. And I think everybody’s bandwidth is stretched pretty thin,” central Texas middle school teacher Meghan Dougherty said Tuesday. “Why would issues around books being read, be such a predominant conversation when there’s so many other challenges facing our students in our schools right now?”

But May said the state does need to address the issue immediately, and also work to enforce it in each district.

“You can’t defend porn to kids. If we don’t fight this right now, it’s gonna turn into somewhere we don’t want to go. Like we have to be able to close the door at some point,” May said.

So far, Keller ISD has not commented on how the book was selected or when. In a statement, the district said it is currently under investigation.

“We are aware that we were mentioned and, as always, will follow any new guidance provided by TEA. Regarding the referenced book, once the District was made aware that the book contained what could be regarded as graphic images, out of an abundance of caution, the book was removed pending an investigation to determine how the book was selected and made available to a student in one of the District libraries,” the school district said.

The TEA has not yet provided details or a timeline on when these statewide standards will be set. The agency said it is taking the Governor’s directive seriously.

“As directed, we will work closely with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and the State Board of Education to develop statewide standards to prevent the presence of pornography and other obscene content in our public schools, including school libraries. We appreciate the Governor’s leadership on this,” Commissioner Mike Morath said Monday.

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