Fort Worth ISD students can start checking out books on Monday — two weeks into the school year.
Librarians conducted inventory on books for two weeks and 120 books currently are under review to determine how they comply with House Bill 900 — a law that requires districts remove sexually explicit books from libraries and parental consent for some with sexual references.
The law also requires publishers to put ratings on books based on sexual content before selling them to school districts and open enrollment charters.
Melissa Kelly, associate superintendent for learning and leading, said the district was being proactive in reviewing the books. Fort Worth ISD is assembling a review committee and before any other books are purchased, the committee will review them. The committee also will review the books currently pulled.
Earlier in the summer, Kelly said, she was informed that some books listed in the digital library catalog didn’t match the inventory.
The department wanted to conduct an inventory before school started, but Kelly said the district had to respect librarians’ contracts on when they can return to work. Students haven’t been able to check out books, but they’ve still had access to the library.
Typically in the first weeks of school, younger students will tour libraries and meet their librarian before they start checking out books, Kelly said.
At the Aug. 22 school board meeting, about a dozen people showed up to ask the school district to not put the removed books back on shelves and to not allow any sexually explicit books on campus.
“Sexually explicit books have no business in the hands of children and do not align with our family beliefs and values,” said Cassie Will, speaking on behalf of Latinos Unite for Conservative Action. “I want to thank you that you did remove books from the library. Moving forward, how will Fort Worth ISD reassure the community that sexually explicit books don’t get into the hands of our children again?”
Kris Kittle, education lead for Tarrant County Citizens Defending Freedom, said removing the books is a great first step, but encouraged the district to adopt a strong new policy in compliance with HB 900.
She said one concern she has is putting sexually explicit books in professional development areas of libraries where teachers can check them out. Kittle is worried those books would be used as a classroom resource.
Almost as many people showed up at the board meeting to speak in support of Fort Worth ISD librarians and ask the district not ban any books. Many, including Rosemary Galdiano, said one group of people should not have power over what other people’s children read.
Galdiano said she is a citizen defending the freedom to read. When children read books, parents have a chance to have conversations with them about issues in the world, she said.
“Book bans harm communities,” she said. “Students cannot access critical information to learn about themselves and the world around them. Young people deserve to see themselves reflected in library books. Limiting young peoples’ access to books does not protect them from life’s complex and challenging issues.”
Layne Craig spoke in support of librarians and their ability to select books appropriate for children.
“I’d like the district to fully and vocally support librarians against the unwarranted attacks they’ve been under,” Craig said. “[And] support LGBTQ+ students who are the target of these attempts. These students deserve to see themselves in stories.”
Public comment became heated, and board president Dr. Camille Rodriguez had to call for order multiple times. One speaker supporting the removal of books was escorted out after attempting to read from one of the books he wanted removed. When some people spoke in support of LGBTQ+ students, other attendees shouted at them.
Kelly said there are systems in place if parents are concerned about their children reading certain books. If a parent doesn’t want their child to read a book, they can call their campus and restrict the child from checking the book out.
If someone feels like a book does not belong in a Fort Worth ISD library, a district resident can file a formal complaint to challenge the book.
Of the 120 books librarians reviewed, Kelly said, some were reviewed as a result of collaborating with other libraries and seeing what books they flagged under the bill.
“This process was not something that was intended to target specific books or specific groups of students to make them feel that way,” Kelly said in response to concerns of the books pulled being books with LGBTQ+ characters or themes. “While we do honor the feelings and respect those people’s feelings, we want to make sure that it’s known that the ISD libraries are committed to protecting access to books for all students.”
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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