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Texas school district pulls 400 books from library shelves for review after legislator’s inquiry

The books featured on the legislator's list cover topics such as racial and gender equality, sexual orientation and abortion.
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A Texas school district pre-emptively pulled more than 400 books from its libraries for review following an inquiry from a Republican state lawmaker.

North East Independent School District in San Antonio said it determined its libraries contained 414 books on a list of roughly 800 targeted by state Rep. Matt Krause. Krause, who chairs the House General Investigating Committee, has asked school officials to search their campuses for copies of the books from the list and respond with how many they have, among other questions such as how the books were paid for.

The school district said in a statement Tuesday that it was reviewing the books “out of an abundance of caution” to “ensure they did not have any obscene or vulgar material in them.”

“Most of those are appropriate and will stay on our library shelves as is, however, some may contain content that needs further review to ensure the books are accessible based on age appropriateness,” Aubrey Chancellor, executive director of communications, said in the statement. “For us, this is not about politics or censorship, but rather about ensuring that parents choose what is appropriate for their minor children.”

The books featured on the list are both nonfiction and fiction, and many cover issues such as race and racial equality, gender equality, identity and sexual orientation, as well as topics such as teen sexuality, pregnancy and abortion. 

The list includes some well-known and lauded books such as “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Confessions of Nat Turner” by William Styron and “The Cider House Rules” by John Irving.

Chancellor told NBC News the district had already been in the process of reviewing its books after deeming one book inappropriate last year and has looked into the age appropriateness of others. She said the district was being proactive and described Krause’s list as a “jumping off point.”

“When I look at some of those titles on there, they in no way are going to be inappropriate,” she said. “They’re going to be absolutely reviewed and back on the shelves. So, you know, maybe all of them may end up going back on our shelves. But we just want to do our due diligence.”

Chancellor said each librarian “is responsible for reviewing the books that they have in their particular libraries.”

“We are simply looking for vulgar or obscene text and knowing that our books are at the appropriate levels, and the appropriate ages are able to check those out,” she said.

She added that between Thursday and Monday, more than 100 of the books “had been reviewed and approved” and deemed age appropriate.

The letter sent by Krause also asks school districts to identify other books that could cause students to feel “guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” The Associated Press reported.

Krause’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the inquiry.

Chancellor said the district anticipates the review to be carried out — and books deemed appropriate returned to shelves — quickly, with the pace depending on each school, as some had very few books from the list and others had more than 100.

The district is also forming a book review committee to determine what books may need to go in a separate section of the library depending on their age appropriateness. It will also add an electronic tool for parents to see which books are being checked out by their kids, she said. 

Last month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told state education officials to develop a standard to ensure “pornography” and “other obscene content” was not present in schools. The governor’s letter cited parents’ concerns about “highly inappropriate books and other content in public school libraries.”

The dispute in the state comes as school districts across the country are facing protests from parents and conservative groups over lessons on racism, equity and discrimination. 

A school district near Houston in October temporarily removed an award-winning children’s book from libraries and canceled a virtual appearance by its author amid parents’ claims that it espoused critical race theory. The books were later returned to shelves, and the author’s appearance was rescheduled. 

Image: "New Kid" and "Class Act" by Jerry Craft.
"New Kid" and "Class Act" by Jerry Craft.

The book’s illustrator and writer, Jerry Craft, whose books tell stories about Black children struggling to fit in to unfamiliar settings, had been set to appear virtually at Roosevelt Alexander Elementary School until the Katy Independent School District scrapped the event after some parents objected.

Craft's books have also been named on Krause's list, including the graphic novel “New Kid,” which was awarded a John Newbery Medal. It tells the story of seventh grader Jordan Banks and how he navigates his worlds at home and at a prestigious private school, where he is one of the few minority students.