In a baffling move that undermines the educational and professional judgment of library and media specialists, the Texas Education Association (TEA) released new guidelines for handling “obscene content” in schools. TEA encourages parental input on material selection by ensuring books are readily available on school library websites–despite the fact they already are via library catalogs–and that school librarians should ask parents what books their children “can” and “cannot” read.
More, the new guidelines would give school boards the final say on materials purchased for the library, allowing the library to be dictated by whoever is sitting in those roles, as opposed to librarians. TEA reminded its members that there are laws against handing minors inappropriate material, without specifying what those laws are (presumably obscenity laws, which do not apply, no matter how popular the phrase).
It is believed these guidelines come in response to pressure from the Governor and legislative bodies.
TEA sent a letter this week to Governor Abbott, noting that there have been several instances of “inappropriate” and “pornographic” materials found in school libraries. Presumably, these include titles on the messy list of 850 titles Representative Matt Kraus sent out last fall that has little rhyme or reason, other than targeting books by and about queer people and people of color. Abbott has promised a “parental rights” bill in recent weeks, just in time for his reelection and the criticism he has received from far-right groups who do not believe he is conservative enough to earn another term.
Morath, Commissioner of Education, is appointed by the governor and was appointed by Abbott in 2016. He has no background in education, other than being elected to the Dallas Independent School Board (DISD) in 2011 and left his work in the technology sector following. He remained on the board through the following election, earning criticism for his role in pushing for “home rule” in DISD, which would eliminate safeguards to teacher jobs and salaries, as well as lengthen their workdays without a subsequent raise in pay. The movement did not pan out, though Abbott’s appointment of Morath to TEA suggests his approval of the movement. Home rule would essentially allow a school district to create and follow their own rules within the bounds of federal and state laws. It would, in other words, allow the school board to take significant power with the running of the school.
Schools do not need to follow TEA’s guidelines, but smaller districts, as well as districts with highly politicized boards, including Granbury Independent School District and Northeast Independent School District, seem like prime arenas for its establishment.
Despite being nonpartisan positions, school boards have become the latest in a string of targets for right-wing groups, including Moms for Liberty, who have a large, loud, and persuasive presence in Texas. TEA’s new guidelines would only further charge these boards with ideologies, rather than their intended work of hiring and evaluating administrators, evaluating policies, and determining budgets, calendars, and hiring schedules. Taking the role of library materials evaluation is beyond their mission.
For a party that demands hands-off policies, the right-wing politicians of Texas (and elsewhere) have made their job as hands-on as possible, down to choosing the individual books in school library collections. In schools that choose to follow this policy, it will only be a matter of time before the roles of school librarian are eliminated as excess–the board can do that work, can’t they?
As Texas goes, so often, too, does much of the rest of the nation. Now is the time to run for your local school board, to write letters to your political representatives, and speak up against these flagrant violations of First Amendment rights.