Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has directed state education officials to create new standards that would keep “pornography” and “obscene” content out of public schools after Republican lawmakers have recently targeted LGBTQ books.
In a letter sent Monday, Abbott urged leadership at the Texas Education Agency (TEA), Texas State Library and Archives Commission, and the State Board of Education (SBOE) to “immediately” develop the standards that would prevent children from being exposed to inappropriate content.
The standards, Abbott said, must include a process for schools to be transparent about the vetting of materials used in the classroom and libraries. The governor noted that parents and community members should be included in that process and notified when an inappropriate book is identified.
Abbott’s directive comes days after he called on the state’s school boards to remove books he described as “pornography” and is the latest development in a wave of efforts to ban materials addressing race, gender, sexuality and American history from classrooms across the nation.
The governor said the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) abdicated its responsibility on the matter “instead of addressing the concerns of parents and shielding Texas children from pornography in public schools.”
CNN has reached out to the TASB for comment. Last week, the TASB sent a letter to the governor indicating that it was not its duty to review library materials and referred him to the TEA and SBOE saying “by design and authority, they are better suited to this work.”
Texas Education Agency, the State Board of Education as well as the Texas State Library and Archives Commission told CNN they would be collaborating to address the governor’s request.
Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said his agency appreciated the governor’s leadership on the issue. Meanwhile, Martha Wong, chair of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, said the commission is “committed to the safety and educational needs of the students of Texas.”
“Our public school families throughout Texas should have the reassurance that their children are not at risk of being confronted with pornographic or obscene material when they are in school,” Keven Ellis, chair of the Texas State Board of Education, said in a statement.
How lawmakers are targeting books in Texas
In his letter, the governor mentions the books “In the Dream House” by Carmen Maria Machado and “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, which have been removed from classrooms and libraries in Central and North Texas, respectively.
Both books are part of a list of 850 titles on a wide range of subjects, including racism, gender identity, and Latino, Black and Native American history that state Rep. Matt Krause, a Fort Worth Republican, recently asked certain school districts to report whether they were available on school campuses.
Krause, a chair of the Texas House Freedom Caucus who is running for state attorney general, said the titles might “make students feel discomfort,” which is language that was used when lawmakers in the state debated laws that aimed at restrict how race and history is being taught in classrooms earlier this year.
Kobabe told CNN last week that “Gender Queer” has been banned or challenged from school libraries in at least seven states. Kobabe wishes that people who have called the book pornography take the time to read the whole book.
“Read the whole thing and judge for yourself, don’t just go based on the one or two tiny clips you’ve seen on social media,” Kobabe said.
Libraries offer a safe space for people trying to find out about themselves, Kobabe said, and the move to ban LGBTQ-related books from school libraries could push teens to the internet to find out about their identity, which the author warns is dangerous.
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