HomeNewsHow new Texas law restricting some books stacks up nationwide
How new Texas law restricting some books stacks up nationwide
November 13, 2023
In 2023, a fifth of the country’s state-level bills impacting the LGBTQ+ community were filed in Texas, according to a Human Rights Campaign analysis. Equality Texas tracked a record 141 such bills this year up from just 12 in 2015. Some policies passed and several others progressed substantially in the most recent legislative session. KXAN’s team of journalists – many LGBTQ+ staff members with unique, developed and inside perspectives providing nuance to our fair, rigorous and balanced reporting standards – produced multimedia stories like this one for the “OutLaw” project, taking an in-depth look at what this trend could mean for Texas’ future.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas was among the states contributing to book restrictions across the nation, a surge that set a record in 2022 and appears on track to do the same in 2023, according to the American Library Association.
A ruling from the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is now allowing the enforcement of a new Texas law which restricts books in schools pending the appeal.
A U.S. District judge initially blocked the enforcement of House Bill 900, saying it was unconstitutionally vague. A court document filed in late September stated Circuit Judges “ordered that an administrative stay is entered pending further order of the court.” A spokesperson with the Office of the Attorney General said the oral argument is scheduled the week after Thanksgiving.
In a tweet posted on X, State Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, wrote, “The READER Act is law in the Great State of Texas!” He authored HB 900.
He added in the post, “There are a series of steps before the law is in full force, including mandatory library standards for public school libraries and recalls of past explicit books sold to school districts.”
“The READER Act” passed during the last regular legislative session and requires bookstores, book publishers and other vendors to review and rate books for “sexually relevant” or “sexually explicit” content if those books are sold to school libraries.
“Setting aside for the moment the fact that this law is clearly unconstitutional, booksellers do not see a clear path forward to rating the content of the thousands of titles sold to schools in the past, nor the thousands of titles that are published each year that could be requested by a school for purchase. Neither do we have the training nor funding needed to do so,” said Charley Rejsek, the CEO of Austin’s BookPeople in July after the lawsuit was filed.
Protecting children vs. censorship
Supporters of the bill said its purpose is to protect children from sexually inappropriate content.
“Without attaching any religious, political or cultural belief, this bill does one thing and one thing only — restricts explicit books from unaccompanied minors in Texas public schools,” said Patterson to lawmakers in April.
Supporters added they believe the law hits the right balance and ultimately is about parent choice.
“Parents are rightfully concerned, and even angry, that their children may have access to obscenities such as date rape, oral sex, bestiality, other inappropriate content in public school libraries. So it’s time to make a change,” said Jonathan Covery with Texas Values, a political advocacy organization during a Senate Education Committee public hearing in May.
During legislative hearings, librarians and parents shared concerns about removing titles from shelves that could impact students’ learning.
“Finding vendors who are willing to sell to Texas school libraries will be increasingly difficult for me because of this new law — that in turn will limit my ability to purchase the next book in a series for that reluctant reader who finally found a series that they’re interested in — and we’re talking about a second grader here,” said teacher and librarian Ashley Cross during one of the public hearings in May.
Others worried the bill would lead to “censorship” of the LGBTQ+ community.
“If I may point you to the Texas Health and Safety Code, section 85.007 and section 163.002, which both state that course materials and instruction must state that homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle to the general public and is a criminal offense under the penal code. So therefore, because the Texas Health and Safety Code states that homosexuality is not an acceptable lifestyle to the general public, any mention of homosexuality at all in a book would allow for it to be considered patently offensive, and therefore subjected to being prohibited in Texas public schools,” said Geoffrey Carlisle, who is a former 8th grade science and sex ed teacher during a House Public Education Committee hearing in March.
The report by ALA which stated a surge in book restrictions found, between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom reported 695 challenges to library materials or services. The association added that most of them were to books written by or about a person of color or a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
A report by PEN America found that Texas had 625 book bans across 12 districts from July 2022 to June 2023. The report also revealed that Florida had the highest number of book bans.
A new study from First Book Research and Insights, a non-profit working to remove barriers to education, found students who had classroom libraries with diverse books had higher reading scores, scoring 3 points higher than the nationally expected averages. The study also found educators reported adding diverse books to classroom libraries increased student reading time on average by four hours each week.
In Texas, as school districts prepare to follow the new law, there are some key dates to keep in mind. No later than Jan. 1, 2024, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission must adopt standards for collection development, and no later than April 1, 2024, vendors must develop and submit a list of library material rated as sexually explicit material or sexually relevant material sold to a school district or open-enrollment charter school.
Katy ISD, a Houston suburb, stated online that its library collections comprised of over 390,000 titles and the district has removed 14 titles found to violate the “pervasively vulgar” standard. “The District does not deny access to, nor remove, library books based on a subject with which some people may disagree,” stated Katy ISD on its website.
According to a Texas Tribune and ProPublica article, a school district near Beaumont removed a substitute middle school teacher who had read students portions of an illustrated adaptations of Anne Frank’s diary. The article also added that the Friendswood Christian School in Houston announced it was canceling its Scholastic Book Fair after the decision was aimed at books featuring LGBTQ+ themes.
Senior Investigative Producer David Barer, Creative Producer Eric Henrikson, Director of Investigations & Innovations Josh Hinkle, Lead Editor Eric Lefenfeld, Digital Executive Producer Andrew Schnitker, Digital Special Projects Developer Robert Sims and Digital Director Kate Winkle contributed to this report.