Feb 16, 2022 - Politics

Records show Texas parents' calls to ban books from schools

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Books examining race and gender should be tossed from libraries and classrooms, some Central Texas parents are telling their school districts.

Driving the news: Filing open records requests, Axios drilled down at one district — suburban Leander — to learn about the motives and mechanisms behind book banning.

  • Politically purple Leander is ground zero for the book wars engulfing the state.
  • District officials already opted to remove at least 11 books from high schoolers' curriculum after a year-long review by parents, staff and others.
  • But the conservative Williamson County Commissioners Court in December threatened to withhold federal money because the district had not gone far enough.

Last month, per district records obtained by Axios, Sheila Pogson wrote that author Miles Hyman's authorized graphic novel version of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" should be removed because it "has no educational value."

  • Pogson objected to nudity in the book: "Once a child finds interest in looking at naked people, they will search out more."
  • Books without proper labeling are "more hazardous than handing a kid a book of matches and a can of gasoline and then sending them on their way to figure it out," Pogson continued. "Their first stop will either be to find porn that would lead to addiction. They may look for someone to experiment with, this leads to manipulation of younger children when they can't find a willing participant."

Of note: The book — we checked out a copy from the library — includes some somber pictures of a naked woman as she gets ready for a bath.

In September, Joyce Hong asked Leander ISD to remove "Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You," after it was chosen as a 10th grade book club read at Vista Ridge

  • The book is a kid-oriented remix of the National Book Award-winning "Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America."
  • "This book centers around critical race theory and should be banned from classrooms," wrote Hong, who said the curriculum should instead have "more classical literature."

The other side: At least a half-dozen requests for reconsideration have been submitted since last fall for books that were removed.

  • "Removing these vital books has got to stop," Francesca Romans wrote to district officials in December about the memoir "In the Dream House" by Carmen Miranda Machado, about her years in an abusive same-sex relationship. "All students deserve to be represented and they deserve to have diverse choices to accomplish this."

What they're saying: Before pulling books from classrooms, Leander ISD Superintendent Bruce Gearing explained last year that "we really feel like we misstepped in reviewing some of those materials adequately."

  • The standard, he said, is whether parents and teachers would want the material in their own children's hands.

Yes, but: Students at Leander ISD's Vandegrift High School have started a "banned books club" to read and chat about literature pulled from school libraries.

  • "We were looking at the list of the books that they banned and we were scrolling through it and it was so long," sophomore Ella Scott told KVUE.

By the numbers: Statewide, only 29% of respondents to a new Texas Politics Project poll from the University of Texas supported "recent efforts by some Texas elected officials, parents, and parent groups to remove books from public school libraries."

  • About 62% opposed them (47% strongly).

Between the lines: But it's still a winner with Republican primary voters.

Zoom out: After sending records requests to nearly 100 school districts in the Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio areas, NBC News found 86 formal requests to remove books from libraries last year.

The bottom line: Axios' Russell Contreras observes that a pivotal midterm election year, COVID frustrations and backlash against efforts to call out systemic racism — driven disproportionately by white, suburban and rural parents — have put new focus on public schools in the culture wars.

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