Last school year a graphic book titled “Gendered Queer, a Memoir” by Maia Kobabe was found and removed from a Keller ISD library upon discovery of sexually explicit imagry and storytelling within the book. This consequently sparked controversy among parents, students, and administrators in the Keller independent school district.
The news of the removed book spread to social media and later even made national news that fueled a call for action. Parents, community members, and the school board took it upon themselves to create a process and committee that flagged books will go through before being allowed back onto shelves of school libraries in the district.
By the end of the 2021-2022 school year, a list of 41 books had been challenged based on content. Just before the 2022-2023 school year began, the previously challenged books were to be re-evaluated under new policy guidelines and were ordered to be removed from all school and classroom libraries. Those that have already passed re-evaluation have been returned to classrooms and libraries.
Keller ISD has established a new policy for reviewing books before being admitted into libraries per new guidelines set in place by the Texas Education Agency. Books challenged by parents, residents, or the board are to be separated from the general library of approved books to be reviewed and will only be available for checkout with parental permission if later approved.
The policy will evaluate books in 14 categories when flagged as a potential violation by committee or a parent. Books with themes of profanity, kissing, horror, violence, drug or alcohol use by minors or adults, bullying, glorification of suicide, self-harm, or mental illness. Furthermore, books with images or descriptions of “nude or intimate body parts” will not be approved for any level, however drug and alcohol use by adults will only be barred from elementary levels.
Keller ISD has detailed the books being challenged and if they will remain in circulation in the district after being judged under the 14 categories on their website.
A large group of members in the community, and even national organizations, have expressed their disdain for the strictness of the policy. Many argue that the ban singles out marginalized groups based on sexuality and race. Even students in the district have approached the policy themselves and expressed the way it has been affecting them.
A senior in the Keller ISD district, approached the board about the subject and the effect it has been having on students.
“The fact is that marginalized students in Keller ISD feel attacked by the school board,” he said. “Something you all don’t seem to understand is that this basic censorship is much more than politics, this is about lives.”
In addition to the unrest in the district, national organizations have also voiced their concerns about limiting access to books in schools. PEN America, a literary and free speech organization that takes on the task of protecting free expression in the U.S. and even worldwide has vocalized their opinions about the enforcement of the new book policy in Texas.
“We are 100 years old. Very alarming to think that a district after having gotten input from so much of its community on this process on these books would now decide that” said Johnathan Freidman, PEN America Director of Free Expression and Education, to CBS DFW.
Other more local organizations such as the the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum have also written about their “disappointment” in the districts decision.
“The Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum is disappointed by the decision of the Board of Trustees of Keller ISD to remove, pending further review, 41 books that were challenged by at least one parent last year, including an illustrated adaptation of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, the Bible, and books addressing racism and LGBTQ+ themes. We understand that this issue is not limited to Keller ISD and that efforts are underway in other Texas districts to remove books from libraries and classrooms. As an educational institution, we support academic freedom and open intellectual inquiry. Parents should have the ability to determine what their children read but should not make those decisions for other students. It is imperative that school districts follow a thoughtful and carefully defined process when determining appropriate reading materials that ensures parental choice but does not limit freedom of thought or expression.” The museum writes in a statement about the follow through with the policy.
Thursday August 18, Dr. Rick Westfall wrote a statement clarifying that books were not being banned but were only being removed temporarily for review to comply with the new policy.
“I want to assure you that Keller ISD is not banning the Bible or the Diary of Anne Frank, as has been suggested in some headlines and shared on social media, but I want to explain where this miscommunication came from,” he wrote. “Regardless of headlines or social media stories, none of the books under re-evaluation were banned.”
Even members in the community express their support for the introduction of a stricter screening process and applaud the action the district is taking. Many parents in the Keller ISD community have vocalized their agreement with the process being upheld.
“I feel like they need to take the time to sort what’s appropriate and what’s not. Unfortunately, a lot of them are not.” Said Keller ISD parent Alison Groom to CBS DFW in an interview about the subject.
Additionally, many would say the policy was needed to help better define the basis of what is and is not appropriate for a school library to allow students to check out, rather than the previous loosely interpreted policy against any books that were “pervasively vulgar”. Charles Randklev, President of the KISD school board comments on this in an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
“One could make the argument and there were good, wholesome discussions that happened during that challenge process that would … flesh that out. Pervasively vulgar, was defined committee by committee. This is an attempt to kind of standardize some of that, and to help guide those discussions.” Randklev said.