A day before school began for its roughly 35,000 students, Keller Independent School District announced a last-minute review of dozens of books challenged in the previous school year, according to an email obtained by The Washington Post. While those conflicts had already been resolved by book committees made up of parents, librarians, administrators and teachers, policies passed by the new school board earlier this month led to the recall of 41 publications, including classics such as Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.”
The board cited parental concerns about adult content, including depictions of sexual activity. But in November, a parent also spoke out against “any variation” of the Bible in schools. A second challenge followed in December, and while a board review initially indicated that the Bible would remain in its current library location, it too was swept up in Tuesday’s advance.
The removal of Anne Frank’s diary edit has sparked backlash since its announcement. In a joint statement on Wednesday, the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth & Tarrant County and the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and the Jewish Community Relations Council expressed disappointment at the decision and urged the school district to “put the book back on the shelf.” to lay”.
“It is imperative that we educate our children about the Holocaust in an age-appropriate way, as set forth in the Texas State Standards for Holocaust Education,” the statement read. “At a time of rising anti-Semitism, we must be especially vigilant so that nothing like the Holocaust can ever happen again.”
Students lose access to books amid ‘state-sponsored purge of ideas’
A A school district spokesperson told The Post that “books that meet the new guidelines will be returned to libraries once they are confirmed to comply with the new policy.” In a Facebook post, the chairman of the board, Charles Randklev, said the review was necessary “to protect children from sexually explicit content.”
But for Hawes, whose four children are students in the district, the decision to pull the books off the shelves underscores how politics has seeped into school boards — a trend that’s happening across the United States.
“These are people who want to bring political culture wars to our schools,” Hawes told The Post. “We can have those fights elsewhere as much as we want, but don’t bring them to my children’s schools.”
Book challenges are nothing new, but they have grown feverishly in the past year as a growing movement on the right embraces them as a political topic of conversation. An April report from PEN America, a free speech organization, found 1,586 books were banned in 86 school districts from July 2021 to March 2022, affecting more than 2 million students. Texas — where a lawmaker issued a watchlist of 850 books last year — topped the other 25 banned states, with 713 book bans, according to the report.
The rise of book bans, explained
At Keller schools, the list of challenged books includes LGBTQ touchstones such as “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel; poetry books such as Rupi Kaur’s “Milk and Honey”; and novels for young adults, such as Jesse Andrews’ “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series. Many focus on gay or transgender characters. They had all been reviewed by the district’s book committees – some were approved, removed, or… age restrictions assigned.
In the spring, Hawes — one of the parents on the books committee — was called in to analyze a complaint about Ari Folman and David Polonsky’s adaptation of “The Diary of a Young Girl.” Based on the unabridged version of Anne Frank’s diary, it was hailed by the New York Times Book Review as “so captivating and effective it’s easy to imagine Diary in the classroom and with younger readers.” The novel illustrates the hopes and despair Frank felt during her time hiding from the Nazis in a small outhouse. But it also includes some of her references to female genitalia and a possible attraction to women. The parent who complained about the book didn’t show up to the book committee review, so it’s unclear what that person was objecting to. said Hawaii.
The committee of about eight people eventually voted to keep the book — but only in middle and high school libraries, because it was dubbed a young adult novel.
“We were so excited because we thought we had saved this book and done our duty,” Hawes said. “And then the school board elections happened the following week and the dynamics of the school board changed.”
Nashville Debuts Limited-Edition ‘I Read Forbidden Books’ Library Card
Keller is one of 20 school districts in Tarrant County, a politically divided area where Joe Biden won by just 1,826 votes in the 2020 presidential election. The election results sparked a conservative effort to take over school boards in the county, Hawes said. Patriot Mobile Action, a Christian Political Action Committee based in Texas, it supported and funded the campaigns of 11 school board candidates across the county, all of whom won. Three of them joined Keller’s seven-member board of trustees in May.
One of their first steps was to rethink the district’s book selection. On August 8, the new board approved two policies approved by the state ministry of education regarding the purchase and assessment of instructional materials and library books.
At that Aug. 8 meeting, some parents thanked the new board for its accelerated efforts to “remove sexually explicit pornographic material” efforts, said a mother, which began in October last year when TikTok’s right-wing Twitter account Libs showed that the school owned a copy of Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: a Memoir,” which has been challenged in many districts.
Hawes acknowledged that not every book is suitable for all children. But “calling them pornography just shuts the whole conversation down because we’re not in the same reality,” she said.
“We may agree or disagree, but these are important and reasonable conversations we need to have as parents,” Hawes said.
“How do we suddenly get to a place where we can’t listen to each other or find some kind of compromise?” she added.