States

Texas Bans ‘Sexually Explicit’ Books in Schools. Law ‘Gets That Trash Out,’ Gov. Greg Abbott Says

By Eleanor Dearman, Fort Worth Star-Telegram — June 13, 2023 2 min read
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas, on June 8, 2021.
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has signed a bill that prohibits “sexually explicit material” in public school libraries, but said more work is needed from lawmakers on education-related legislation.

In the past couple years, debates have played out in Texas districts over whether certain books are appropriate for school libraries and the role parents should play in monitoring reading material.

The new Texas law requires the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to create mandatory standards for school libraries, that includes a ban on material that is “sexually explicit.”

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Protesters read in the middle of the Texas Capitol rotunda as The Texas Freedom Network holds a "read-in" to protest HB 900 Wednesday, April 19, 2023. The bill would ban sexually explicit materials from library books in schools.
Protesters read in the middle of the Texas Capitol rotunda as The Texas Freedom Network holds a "read-in" to protest HB 900 Wednesday, April 19, 2023. The bill would ban sexually explicit materials from library books in schools. Mass book bans in a handful of districts are influenced by state legislation, PEN America found.
Mikala Compton/Austin American-Statesman via AP

“I’m signing a law that gets that trash out of our schools,” Abbott said.

Book vendors would be responsible for rating library materials as “sexually explicit” or “sexually relevant.” Books labeled as “sexually relevant” could be available to students with parental approval. Books considered explicit could not be sold to districts and would need to be recalled if in library collections.

The bill was among four “parental empowerment” bills that Abbott signed. Other bills relate to the vetting process for instructional materials, a fund to help parents pay for special education services outside the classroom and a bill to let parents decide if their child should repeat a grade.

The library book law comes after a former North Texas representative in 2021 targeted more than 800 books in a school library book probe. The topics included race, sex and sexuality.

An April report from free speech organization PEN America found in the first half of the 2022-2023 school year, instances of books being banned increased 28% compared to the six months before. Thirty percent of the books are about race, racism or featured characters of color and 26% had LGBTQ characters or themes. Texas was among the states with the most instances of book bans, according to the report.

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A seventh-grade student reads a book in the library stacks at Sutton Middle School in Atlanta on Feb. 12, 2020.
A seventh-grade student reads a book in the library stacks at Sutton Middle School in Atlanta on Feb. 12, 2020.
Allison Shelley for EDUimages
Reading & Literacy Book Bans Hit an All-Time High Last Year
Eesha Pendharkar, April 20, 2023
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Ahead of signing the four bills, Abbott confirmed during a news conference that lawmakers will be called back for a special session to focus on “parental empowerment” in education. He prefaced that by saying the state needs “to deliver on the promise to parents that parents will have the ability to choose the education pathway best for their child.”

Abbott has advocated for education savings accounts, a voucher-like program that would allow state dollars be used for a student’s private education. The House and Senate have clashed on vouchers in recent months, a debate that became entangled in the prospect of teacher pay raises as the regular legislation wrapped up in late May.

“It’s important for parents and Texans to know that there has been a pathway for both the House and Senate to work collaboratively to achieve parental choice in education,” Abbott said. “We’ve gotten far closer than what people know. The most important thing that we can do is to provide the broadest opportunity possible for parents in the state of Texas to choose.”

Asked whether the special session would focus solely on school choice or if would also include teacher pay raises and other education policies, Abbott said the call can be expected to look like a House Bill that, after being amended in the Senate, bundled education savings accounts, teacher pay and other topics. The legislation did not make it to Abbott’s desk.

Combined with funding allocated during the regular session, Abbott said he would authorize more funding for public education and teacher pay raises than “any governor in the history of the state.”

Copyright (c) 2023, Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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