Keller ISD set to vote on book removal policies following national backlash

The Keller ISD School Board will discuss updating its guidelines for reviewing and removing library and teaching materials after it came to national attention this week for removing 41 books from school shelves, including the Bible and an adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary.

A day before students return to class, Tarrant County District school officials asked campuses to remove any books challenged last year from library shelves.

The titles, recently disputed by parents and community members, included that of Toni Morrison The bluest eye, Diary of Anne Frank: the graphic adaptation and the Bible.

Several of the other 41 books tell the stories of LGBT and Black characters. Many had also been flagged but later approved by a committee to remain in libraries and classrooms.

The backlash was swift after the removal of the books made national headlines, with organizations like PEN America, a literary and free speech organization that protects free speech in the United States and around the world , and the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum.

Now, the board is set to vote Monday on policy guidelines for the acquisition and review of library and teaching materials, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Friday.

The draft policies, posted online Friday, would prohibit content such as horror, underage drug or alcohol use, tobacco use, “glorification of suicide, self-harm or mental illness” and content considered sexually explicit in elementary schools.

Guidelines become less and less restrictive in higher grades, but content that includes detailed sex scenes, illustrations or depictions of “naked private body parts” and sexually explicit conduct or depictions of sexual abuse” will be prohibited at all levels.

The policies, required by the Texas Education Agency, state that books that have been challenged by parents or community members should be kept in a part of the library separate from general circulation. These materials are only available with parental consent.

The state’s main education agency launched an investigation into Keller ISD last year over concerns it had sexually explicit books available to children.

The district has been inundated with complaints about inappropriate books, part of a nationwide fight pushed by conservative Republican leaders targeting headlines about race, gender and sexuality.

So, for months, Keller’s parents, community members and staff met behind closed doors to review the disputed books and determine whether they should remain in classrooms or libraries. The debate is so heated that members of the district’s book challenge committees have been asked to sign confidentiality agreements.

The district maintains an evolving web page that lists any books challenged by parents or community members, along with the results of each committee’s deliberations. At this point, those decisions seem moot.

After the 41 books were announced this week, Keller Superintendent Rick Westfall released a statement “seeking to provide clarification on these claims.”

“I want to assure you that Keller ISD is not banning the Bible or Anne Frank’s diary, as has been suggested in some headlines and shared on social media, but I want to explain where this misunderstanding comes from,” he said. Westfall said in a statement Thursday.

“Under the new [policy], books that have been challenged by community members as inappropriate for schools should be removed from shelves and kept in a parental consent area until the challenge process is complete. Previously challenged books are also being moved to a parental consent area to determine if those books meet the new policy standards and guidelines that will soon be reviewed by the board,” he explained.

The DMN Education Lab deepens coverage and conversation about pressing 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 Education Lab journalism.

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