A school district in Texas removed books by an award-winning author from its schools’ library shelves and postponed a virtual event he had been invited to because of a complaint that his books promote critical race theory.
Jerry Craft, a New York Times bestselling and Newbery winning author and illustrator, was invited to do a virtual visit by the Katy Independent School District, a suburb 30 miles west of Houston, Texas, on October 4.
Approximately 5,000 students were invited to be part of the event, Katy ISD spokesperson Laura A. Davis told CNN in a statement Thursday. But because of “one formal challenge,” the district postponed the event.
Critical race theory has been around for decades and has evolved over the years, but ultimately is taught with the goal of addressing and understanding inequality and racism in the US. The term has also become politicized and attacked by its critics as Marxist ideology threatening the American way of life.
In September, a new Texas law aimed at restricting discussions of race and history in schools went into effect, so it’s not taught at Katy ISD schools. The law says social studies teachers can’t “require” or include in their courses the concept that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or the concept that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
‘Showing kids of color as just regular kids’
“New Kid” and “Class Act,” two works by Craft, tell the stories of a seventh and an eighth grader who attend a prestigious private school known for its academics, but one where they are among the few kids of color in their grades, according to Craft’s website. Faced with the idea that they are part of two worlds, the book outlines their struggle to fit in where diversity is low.
At the beginning of the school year, a flyer was sent out promoting Craft’s October 4 virtual visit with third through fifth graders at Roosevelt Alexander Elementary School, according to CNN affiliate KPRC. An amended flyer was sent last Friday however, giving parents and guardians the option to opt their children out of the visit.
The opt-out option came after a now removed online petition asking for the district to cancel Craft’s virtual visit, according to KPRC. A district spokeswoman told KPRC as of Monday, 30 parents had opted out.
“Any Katy ISD parent who chooses to challenge a library selection is encouraged to follow the District’s Board Policy EF (Local) that outlines the process for a formal challenge of an instructional resource,” Davis said.
“Katy ISD library books are routinely reviewed through this process. Pending the outcome of a review committee, school day activities associated with the selection under review are temporarily placed on hold. School activities pertaining to selections under review and hosted outside of the instructional day, however, may continue as a formal review process takes place.”
It’s unclear how many Katy ISD school libraries Craft’s books were in.
In response to the online petition and the formal complaint from a Katy ISD parent, Craft said so much has changed in his life since publishing “New Kid” and becoming the first graphic novelist to win the Newbery Medal.
“But through it all, what has not changed are my goals for my books: helping kids become the kind of readers that I never was; letting kids see themselves on my pages; and showing kids of color as just regular kids,” he wrote in an online statement.
“As an African American boy who grew up in Washington Heights in New York City, I almost never saw kids like me in any of the books assigned to me in school,” he wrote. “Books aimed at kids like me seemed to deal only with history or misery. That’s why it has always been important to me to show kids of color as just regular kids, and to create iconic African American characters like Jordan Banks from ‘New Kid.'”
Craft’s Twitter page is full of retweets and mentions from people all around the world in support of his work.
CNN has reached out to Craft for comment but did not hear back.
Not ‘appropriate’ material for a taxpayer-funded school
It’s routine for Bonnie Anderson to review her three children’s school materials. From math homework to what they’re reading in English class, Anderson, a former candidate for Katy ISD school board and the person behind the online petition to cancel Craft’s virtual meeting, told CNN Thursday that she reviews it all to see what they’re learning and to engage with her kids.
When she saw the flyer about Craft’s virtual meeting set to take place during school, she rented his books from the library and after reading them herself said she was “alarmed” by the material.
“Once I had confirmed that this was critical race theory material, I started the petition and made other parents aware of what was in these books,” she said.
Anderson said she didn’t launch the formal complaint about Craft’s books being on the shelves in school. Her main concern was “that in a taxpayer-funded school, materials which are divisive and can only serve to perpetuate things like bullying or racism or pitting children against each other” are “just not appropriate.” Craft’s books, she said, are filled with microaggressions.
“The problem with microaggressions is that it teaches children that preordained conclusion that White children have privilege or status, and that they are going to inherently do and say harmful things to children of color, which I disagree with,” Anderson said. “I don’t think that there is any inherent bias or systemic racism that we need to be battling.”
After Craft’s visit was postponed, Katy ISD parent, Lisa Dunlap Gorman, told CNN Thursday she was really disappointed to have received notice from the school that Craft’s visit was canceled.
“I’m opposed to banning books, especially one like Mr. Craft’s ‘New Kid,’ which is such an important story to tell,” Gorman told CNN. “I’m hopeful Katy ISD does the right thing after a review and places the books back on our library shelves where they belong, and that Mr. Craft will be invited back to our campuses.”
As of Thursday afternoon, “New Kid” was listed the #1 bestseller on Amazon’s list for “Children’s Boys & Men Books.”
The district said their review period of the books will take no longer than 10 days and that they are working with Craft and his publisher to reschedule the visit.
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