The student news site of Midlothian Heritage High School

The Roar

The student news site of Midlothian Heritage High School

The Roar

The student news site of Midlothian Heritage High School

The Roar

Literacy Litigation

A Look at the Book Ban Conversation in Texas
Photo by McGlauthon (Mac) Fleming IV
Book bans are a controversial subject in the political and social world of modern America. The controversy has only increased as the rate of book bans has increased in the years since the Covid pandemic. – Made in Canva

The first week of October is “Banned Books Week”, a week nationally recognized in order to bring awareness to one of the nation’s most controversial current topics. However, a national topic has national consequences, so the question is what is happening both nationally and close to home.

“We are very receptive to discussion and we want to encourage those relationships with the students and the parent’s, that they can have conversation,” Director of Libraries in Midlothian ISD, Mendy Autry said. “It should be more natural than a committee if we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

Many disagree with the idea of book bans. Starting from teachers who can sympathize but feel more informed decisions can be made.

“I understand why people have a problem with [certain books], but their ignorance is the problem,” English teacher Camille Riggins said. “As a parent, because I have a 10 year old daughter and then I have two [kids] that graduated, I think that the reason why parents express concerns is because they’re fearful that their kids are being exposed to things they don’t want them exposed to. But, again, I don’t think taking it away from everyone is solving the problem. That should be a personal thing.”

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To students who feel in their disagreement with the idea that the current course could be different and better.

“Honestly, it is making me furious,” Maura Huston (12) said. “I don’t agree with it, to put it lightly. Once you get into high school, I feel as though it’s unnecessary because students at that age should know what they can and cannot handle. And if their parent’s have issues, that is up to the student and their guardians. There are other ways. You can make a section and say this is what this should be and that way you can at least monitor it. To completely get rid of the book gets rid of the opportunity.”

Book bans as an issue have gained a massive amount of traction since the pandemic, a politcally volatile period of time when parents were in more close quarters with what their children were learning. This shift in the political landscape as well as the view of curriculum, has led to many, parents and legislators alike, attempting to have a more vested interest in what is being taught to the country’s youth, much to the chagrin of educators.

“I think it’s scary for parents to get into the business of curriculum decisions in public school,” English and Social Studies teacher, Megan Ross said. “If you want to control everything that your children read and see, then maybe private school or homeschooling is a better option for you. If we’re in public school, experts need to be making [the] decision of what student’s read. A parent, obviously, can discuss an issue with a book and I’m open to other options, but this is public school so we serve all children.”

In the MISD district, similarly to many other districts, there is a system and set of guidelines that regulate the content and accessibility of books in the district based on age/grade level to make sure appropriate content is available to the student body at the level they will be able to receive it the best. It is accessible on the district website.

“In Midlothian ISD, to purchase books for the school libraries, each campus librarian makes selections based on what the needs and interests of the students are, ” Autry said. “[The] Texas legal guideline is that the Texas State and Library Archive Commission will put out expectations for school libraries and then school districts develop their selection guidelines to align with that. Part of the selection guidelines have to do with the book binding… and then some of the selection guidelines have to do with just the developmental appropriateness of the books.”

There is not a district list of banned books, although there is a way for citizens of Midlothian, specifically parents, to appeal for the book to be re-examined against district guidelines in order for the book to be moved to the proper campus or removed from school grounds. There are two types of reconsiderations. The first is informal reconsideration.

“We want to be sure that we are very careful that we have books that our kids want to read and that match our students interests,” Autry said. “We believe that anytime a book is removed from a library without consideration, that’s a first amendment violation. But, again, we also have a legal and moral repsponsiblity to make sure that the [books] that we put in the hands of students are developmentally appropriate. If somebody expresses a concern, verbalizes a concern or emails, that’s called informal consideration. That happens pretty regularly. Whether it’s a parent or a student or somebody, they’ll take the book and compare it against the selection guidelines. If it meets the selection guidelines, it stays. If, when you look at it, it’s obvious that it should be for an older grade level, it would move from a middle school to a high school and so on.”

The second is formal reconsideration.

“A formal reconsideration is if someone is concerned about a book and they didn’t agree with the decision made after the informal consideration. The person expressing the concern has to read the book in its entirety, there is a form that they fill out, it usually starts at the campus but it goes to a district administrator, a committee is put together that would have representation from the district, from the school, and maybe even community members. Everybody would read the book in its entirety and compare it against the selection guidelines.”

Librarian’s on the district campuses are also supposed to be on the lookout for books that may need to be removed.

“Another part of a [librarian’s] role as they go about their daily business, they may be shelving books, they may notice something that may have been in the library for a long time, but may not meet the selection guidelines,” Autry said. “That’s the normal process of weeding.”

However, depending on the definition of book banning that someone is using, this is not a ban, it is putting the book in the proper hands or taking it out since it does not fit a school environment.

“In general, I would say any banning of information is a bad thing,” Ross said. “Of course, there should be restrictions on information [for] books for children of a certain age, appropriate levels, but when you get to high school, access to information is important.”

Legislators attempting to put their own stamp on the issue have come up with both “anti-book banning” legislation in states like Illinois and California or have made more well-defined terms for restricting access to books, such as states like Florida or legislation like the new READER (Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources) Act (HB 1655) in Texas.

“I serve as the President of the Texas Association of School Library Administrators for the state,” Autry said. “So, I have had the opportunity to work with people from the Texas State and Library Archive Commission and some of my partners from other districts who have been heavily involved in the legislation. It’s been an interesting process to watch that evolve.”

The READER Act, being new and challenged legislation, is not currently entirely in effect.

“As you know, that bill did pass this legislative session,” Autry said. “But then, there was an independent lawsuit filed and an injuction has been put in place to stop the READER Act. The part that is not continuing at the moment until the court case is concluded is the part where they are asking [vendors] to give ratings to books. My concern is that they’re not asking the publishers to put ratings on the books, the people producing the books, that know the books. They’re asking book vendors, the people who sell the books and the problem with that is that if you have 100 different book vendors, you might get multiple opinions. So the opinions go to the Texas Education Agency, if it is put into place, vendors are supposed to give reviews by April, and then TEA is supposed to compile all of those into one list. Then school districts would look at that list before they purchase books and if they’re is something labeled ‘Explicit’, schools wouldn’t be allowed to purchase it. If it is labled sexually relevant, schools would be allowed to purchase it but parent’s would have the right to opt their children out of those things, which they do now.

However, if it does fully pass, it could have serious ramifications on Texas libraries and curriculums.

“If it is implemented, we’ll have to wait for TEA to publish the reconciled list of ratings,” Autry said. “We’ll just have to deal with the purchasing and the parent opting in. We have about 300,000 books right now. We would have to go back through and see if we had any that would be on the list that we wouldn’t be allowed to have. We would be legally required to pull any from the district from places where students would hve access to it.”

Even closer to home, it could have a serious effect on the libraries in the MISD district.

“I believe that book banning is bordering on an infringement of our freedoms, as children and as adults,” Riggins said.

As the law is being processed, the TSLAC/TEA is attempting to create their new set of guidelines, and currently the previous set, a link to which can be found on the MISD district website, can no longer be accessed at the time of writing.

“The last revision was in 2018 and before that, it had been decades,” Autry said. “So right now the portion of the READER Act that is moving forward is the part that is requiring the Texas State and Library Archive Commission to update selection standards which is good because it has been a while.”

Many feel like most approaches to book restrictions are understandable but in execution tend to be rather lackluster, going too far the majority of the time.

“I think they’re stupid and unnecessary to an extent,” Vasayaa Sotsavanh (12) said. “I don’t think elementary kids should look at porn, but overall the actual reason why people are banning books is to push a narrative that is regressive and unfair. I feel they shouldn’t be banned, but they should be limited to a demographic until they are old enough to handle a certain topic. Books, they are education and trying to limit something to push a narrative is honestly kinda crappy. I think there should be freedom in the content we consume but at the same time, obviously protect the kids.”

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