One of the most important skills in a child’s education is literacy. Books open new worlds for students — they’re also part of debates in the current legislative session.
Legislation that would require publishers to follow a rating system for books is making its way through the Capitol, and trustees running for seats on the Fort Worth ISD school board have differing thoughts on how to handle the legislation.
Some candidates said there already are systems in place to assure students don’t have access to inappropriate materials.
What are the proposed ratings in House Bill 338?
The ratings range from BK-Y to BK-MA and are based on the following:
BK-Y: It is material intended for children younger than 7 years old. The content cannot be designed or intended to frighten.
BK-Y7: The material is intended for 7 or older. It may contain mildly frightening or violent themes.
BK-G: This rating means it is intended for all ages. The content may contain little or no violent, sexual or profane themes.
BK-PG: The book is meant to be read by young children if they have the guidance of an adult. The content could include suggestive dialogue or situations, infrequent profanity and moderate violence.
BK-14: This rating means the book or material is intended for children who are at least 14 years old. It is assigned to content that may contain intensely suggestive dialogue or situations, profanity and intense violence.
BK-MA: This is the highest rating and is intended only for readers who are at least 17 years old. These books or materials could contain explicit depictions of sexuality, strong profanity and graphic violence.
District 5 trustee and incumbent CJ Evans is not a fan of the legislation as it is currently written because she is an advocate for local control.
“It doesn’t take into account some unintended but unforeseen consequences,” Evans said. “We have a policy in place that if a parent or even a community member feels that a book is not appropriate, there is a process to challenge that book.”
The process of raising concerns about a book starts at the campus level, Evans said, and she encourages families to start there. She personally will not advocate for banning any books, she said.
One of her District 5 challengers, Josh Yoder, fully supports House Bill 900, which does not outline specific ratings but is similar to HB 338 in that it says vendors have to rate books. The bill specifically prohibits books with sexually explicit material in school libraries.
“It’s another point of contention that has no bearing on our child’s learning development,” Yoder said. “Why are we talking about it? Let’s get it out. Let’s come to a consistency. Let’s use the same books that our parents grew up on, that we grew up on, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ ‘How to Eat Fried Worms.’ I do believe that children need to be able to educate themselves and ask more questions and come to their own conclusions. But I shouldn’t have to teach my daughter about sex at 7 years old because she’s going to pick up something at the library.”
Yoder believes the bill would bring consistency to rules surrounding books in Texas. However, he wants school districts’ constituents to decide which ratings they want.
Also in the District 5 race, Kevin Lynch wants to refocus back on academic excellence.
“We continue to get pulled in all these silos,” Lynch said. “There’s a policy in place that if a parent has a concern about something, there are ways to raise that. I think age appropriateness is important, but at the end of the day, we have to focus on academic excellence.”
What do the candidates think?
Tobi Jackson: Wants to know more about how the legislation worked elsewhere and its impact on students
Pat Carlson: Would support the bill
Quinton Phillips: Believes adults should monitor what their student is reading and wouldn’t want to ban a book for everyone because one parent is uncomfortable with it
Valeria Nevárez: Supports the bill and said it could help prevent people lashing out at librarians
Mar’Tayshia James: Believes parental involvement in what kids read is important and sexual books should not be in school libraries
CJ Evans: Against the legislation because she is an advocate for local control
Josh Yoder: Fully supports the legislation
Kevin Lynch: Wants to focus back on academic excellence and use systems already in place to review books
If the bill becomes law, District 2 incumbent and board president Tobi Jackson said, there is staff in place to manage library changes and the process wouldn’t require trustee intervention.
“What I would want to know as a trustee, when something like this is coming in from Austin, is where has this worked, what had been the benefits and what were the outcomes for students?” she said. “And if there was no information, that should not occur.”
Her challenger, Pat Carlson, would support the bill, although she has not seen it, she said. Part of her reason for supporting it is because she doesn’t want drag shows at libraries.
Drag shows in public libraries and other public spaces have been part of several bills this legislative session, according to the Texas Tribune. The morality of the United States is not what it used to be, Carlson said.
But drag is not related to book ratings. If the bill is passed, Carlson said she assumes certain ratings wouldn’t be allowed in certain libraries. For example, a BK-14 rating wouldn’t be in an elementary library, because the sutdent must be at least 14-years-old to read that book. If so, the rating already is there so it would be an easier choice for the librarian.
District 3 candidate Valeria Nevárez is a self-described bookworm. To her, reading is very important and the legislation could help protect district staff.
“It’s important to label them to avoid parents getting angry at schools and librarians,” she said. “Let’s have the precautions necessary. If it’s a book that is not meant to be read by pre-K, then don’t put it in that section. It’ll avoid a lot of parents lashing out at schools and librarians.”
District 3 incumbent Quinton Phillips believes adults should monitor what their students are reading and determine what is appropriate for them. He is comfortable with some novels his ninth-grader is reading that his 9-year-old shouldn’t.
But just because his 9-year-old shouldn’t read a book doesn’t mean he wants to ban it for all kids, he said. If the Legislature passes book ratings, Phillips said, it will be important to listen to library staff to figure out ways trustees can help.
“There’s still a way to go about it without just saying we’re banning books,” Phillips said. “That’s not the way to go either, because now you’re just taking the opportunity away from someone that may be able to learn something from a different material. It’s about when you should be able to access that material.”
Also in the District 3 race, Mar’Tayshia James is concerned about reading scores in Fort Worth ISD and wants to focus back on books that help improve literacy in libraries. James said she’s seen coverage on the news of some sexual books in schools and she thinks those should be removed.
Parental involvement in deciding what books their children can have access to is important, James said.
“Sometimes, especially with the world now, a lot of parents don’t want their kids knowing certain things or want their kids to learn certain things from them,” James said. “Every parent has a different style of teaching or informing their child about stuff. We can’t take that from that parent or those parents. We can’t take that option away from parents.”
Enterprise reporter Jacob Sanchez contributed to this story.
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.