TEA Issues New Guidance About Library Materials

The move comes amid increased scrutiny on books in schools

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 729 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services, resulting in more than 1,597 individual book challenges or removals in 2021 – the highest number since ALA began its tracking 30 years ago.

“Reading is foundational — it helps us dream, helps us create, and helps us access opportunity,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. “Whether you’re a kid in rural West Virginia, in the suburbs of Texas, or in a shelter in New York City, opening a book means you’re opening the world. But reading is hard without books. 

“Book bans are about limiting kids’ freedom to read and teachers’ freedom to teach,” Weingarten continued. “Parents agree — they want their children to learn the lessons of the past in an age-appropriate way, even as certain politicians try to turn classrooms into cultural battlefields and censor what gets taught. The majority of these bans target titles with racial and LGBTQ themes, cruelly erasing young readers’ lived experience.”

Amid increased scrutiny on books in schools, the Texas Education Agency released statewide standards “to prevent the presence of obscene content in Texas public school libraries.” The standards came after Gov. Greg Abbott directed TEA, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, and the Texas State Board of Education to develop such standards. 

“As you noted in your letter, there have been several instances recently of inappropriate materials being found in school libraries. This is unacceptable, and the students of Texas should not be exposed to this harmful content in their local schools. After working closely with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and the chair of the State Board of Education over the last several months, this model local school board policy will serve as a helpful guide to school boards as they create the policies for their school district libraries,” TEA Commissioner Mike Morath wrote to Abbott.

The TEA’s model policy emphasizes parents’ roles in children’s education and in choosing what their children read. The model policy says school districts should make the selection process for library materials available for parental review, and librarians or designated campus administrators should encourage parents to share any considerations regarding their students’ book selections. The guidance also suggests that school boards have final approval of new materials added to the library and that a committee should be appointed to review any challenged materials. However, school districts aren’t required to adopt the agency’s recommendations.

For all the recent debate regarding instructional materials for teaching reading and writing in the district with the recent decision by the school board to replace the Units of Study materials, Highland Park ISD spokeswoman Jacqueline Moran said she has no record of the district receiving any formal requests to remove books from its libraries. It has, however, received requests to reconsider classroom materials in 2014-2015. Moran said those were for The Art of Racing in the Rain (the book’s use was ultimately upheld) and The Working Poor: Invisible In America. The reconsideration request for that material was withdrawn.

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Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order. You can reach her at [email protected]

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