Aug 17, 2022 - News

Texas lawmaker urges rural schools to wade into book wars

Illustration of a bookshelf with rainbow-colored books wrapped in "do not enter" yellow tape.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

State Rep. Cody Harris, an East Texas Republican, wants rural schools to speak out against "pornographic content" in public schools, using Austin ISD as an example of a school district "actively engaged in exposing students" to explicit material.

Why it matters: The move by Harris is the latest effort by GOP lawmakers to wage a war against content in schools and libraries that they deem inappropriate, including books examining race, gender and sexuality.

What they're saying: "Schools like Austin ISD are actively engaged in exposing students — even elementary school students — to grotesque sexual and downright pornographic content that is unquestionably inappropriate and has no place in a public school system," Harris, who is up for reelection, wrote to superintendents in his district in a letter obtained by Axios Austin.

The other side: "No, we're not," Jason Stanford, a spokesperson for AISD, quipped.

Between the lines: A spokesperson for Harris sent Axios videos from a Twitter account called "Libsoftiktok" — which regularly denounces transgender people and gender-affirming care for children — as reason for the letter. The account posted at least two videos tagging Austin ISD.

Details: Harris added that while local control should be preserved, "it should not be used as an excuse to allow out-of-control political subdivisions to bombard students with filth — whether it be gay pride celebration at an elementary school or graphic illustrations in a library book."

  • "I am convinced that for good rural schools to survive, you must speak out — whether that's on your own or through the association that you pay to represent you," Harris said.

Flashback: Schools across the state have pulled books from their shelves amid pressure from GOP leadership.

  • Most recently, 27 House Republicans urged school district officials not to buy books from vendors that have supplied schools with material deemed inappropriate. Rep. Jared Patterson, a Frisco Republican who led the charge, announced earlier this week that he has challenged 23 books in Frisco ISD for the new school year, though his press release did not name them.
  • Keller ISD, near Fort Worth, directed all teachers and librarians this week to remove 41 books and review them, including all version of the Bible and an adaptation of Anne Frank's diary.
  • In Central Texas, district officials in Leander ISD opted last year to remove 11 books from high school book clubs and classroom libraries, including "V for Vendetta" and the graphic novel version of "The Handmaid’s Tale." Meanwhile, the conservative Williamson County Commissioners Court threatened to withhold federal money, saying the district hadn’t gone far enough.
  • In Llano County, a librarian alleged that she was fired after refusing to remove books from the shelves.
  • In Round Rock, a Black Parents Association mobilized to stop the district from banning "Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You," by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds.

What to watch: Measures targeting school books and curricula are all but certain to come up when lawmakers reconvene at the state Capitol in January.

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