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Texas district pulls the Bible, Anne Frank adaptation as schools face more book backlash

Dallas Morning News logo Dallas Morning News 8/18/2022 Talia Richman, The Dallas Morning News

A day before kids return to class, Keller school officials instructed campuses to pull any book that was challenged last year from library shelves.

This includes those that were flagged but later approved by a committee to remain in libraries and classrooms.

Among the titles recently challenged by parents and community members: Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Anne Frank’s Diary (The Graphic Adaptation) and the Bible. Several of the other 41 books tell the stories of LGBT and Black characters.

Jennifer Price, the district’s curriculum director, emailed principals a set of instructions Tuesday morning, along with a spreadsheet of every challenged title.

“By the end of today, I need all books pulled from the library and classrooms,” she wrote. “More information will be sent regarding action for these books. … Once this has been completed, please email me a confirmation. We need to ensure this action is taken by the end of today.”

District spokesman Bryce Nieman said Keller school trustees recently approved a new policy that requires every book that was previously challenged to be reconsidered.

He said he is unsure of the timeline for when the re-review process will be completed.

Later in the day Tuesday, an email went out to Keller principals and librarians, acknowledging that many people had questions about the decision to remove books.

“Books that meet the new guidelines will be returned to the libraries as soon as it is confirmed they comply with the new policy,” associate superintendent John Allison wrote. “We hope to be able to expedite the process and return eligible books into circulation as soon as possible.”

The Texas Education Agency opened an investigation into Keller ISD last year because of concerns that it had sexually explicit books available to children.

The district was flooded with complaints about inappropriate books, part of a national fight that’s been egged on by conservative Republican leaders targeting titles about race, gender and sexuality.

So for months, Keller parents, community members and staff met behind closed doors to review the challenged books and determine whether they should remain in classrooms or libraries. The debate is so heated members of the district’s Book Challenge Committees were asked to sign confidentiality agreements.

Keller officials argued that the district kept its book challenge committee deliberations secret in part because of fear of retribution from Gov. Greg Abbott’s office.

The district maintains an evolving web page that lists every book challenged by parents or community members — along with the results of each committee’s deliberation. At this point, those decisions appear moot.

The committee decided The Bluest Eye and the Bible would remain in their current locations.

At least one person challenged the Bible due to its “sexual content, violence including rape, murder, human sacrifice, misogyny, homophobia, discrimination, and other inappropriate content,” according to documents obtained by The Dallas Morning News. The person who challenged Anne Frank’s Diary (The Graphic Adaptation) wrote to school officials that it should be viewed in the presence of an adult.

Many of the books that were challenged center around gay or transgender characters.

Those include I Am Jazz (the majority of the committee voted to leave the book in a campus library) and All Boys Aren’t Blue (the committee agreed the book should remain in high schools).

Several of the books challenged in Keller appeared on a list circulated by Rep. Matt Krause last year.

The Fort Worth Republican sent superintendents a letter listing more than 800 titles asking officials to identify whether those books were in schools, where they were located and how much money was spent on them.

An analysis of Krause’s list by The News found that of the first 100 titles listed, 97 were written by women, people of color or LGBT authors.

His request poured gasoline on the fight over books in Texas, which has continued to escalate.

Keller was among North Texas districts where conservative PACS poured big money into local school board May elections.

Other North Texas districts are similarly embroiled in fights over books.

Also this week, Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, submitted challenges for nearly two dozen books in Frisco ISD. He labeled them “graphic and obscene” and said many of them had already been pulled in nearby districts.

Among the titles he flagged were two also challenged in Keller: All Boys Aren’t Blue by George Johnson, which is about what it’s like growing up as a queer Black man, and Ashley Hope Pérez’s Out of Darkness, a doomed love story between a Mexican American girl and an African American boy, leading up to the 1937 New London school explosion.

Patterson chastised Frisco’s leadership for not banning as many books as other local districts.

Frisco has shown it is committed to ensuring libraries don’t have sexually explicit material, spokeswoman Meghan Cone said in a statement. Officials adopted new guidelines for book purchases and are reviewing their collections for age-appropriateness.

“It will take some time for staff to work through more than 1 million books across 75 campuses,” she said. “We welcome and appreciate parents and community members who bring book concerns to our attention.”

Patterson has continued to post criticism of Frisco Superintendent Mike Waldrip, including a June post where he said he would not rest until “significant changes” are made both in Frisco and across the state.

Free speech advocates have watched Texas districts’ actions with alarm. They say children need access to books with diverse characters and storylines so they can both see themselves reflected in literature as well as have their worldview widened by the experiences of others.

In Keller, “the sweeping attempt to remove these titles from classrooms and libraries on the eve of a new school year is an appalling affront to students’ First Amendment rights,” Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression at the nonprofit advocacy organization PEN America, said in a statement. “It is virtually impossible to run a school or a library that purges books in response to any complaint from any corner.”

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, The Murrell Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

©2022 The Dallas Morning News. Visit dallasnews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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