Q: I’ve been hearing a lot of rumblings about library books, including seeing several lists circulated identifying books that may have inappropriate sexual content. The talk is that the Texas House of Representatives may be taking action on this subject. Am I obligated to review/remove these books?
A: No. While the Texas House Committee on General Investigating has launched an “inquiry into Texas school district [library] content,” no official legislation has been proposed with respect to library materials. As such, there is currently no law or policy requiring the immediate review or removal of books with mature dialogue; however, schools may choose to remove library materials consistent with local policy provisions, whether at administrator discretion or in response to student or parent challenge.
State Representative Matt Krause, Chair of the House Committee on General Investigating, notified TEA on October 25, 2021 that the Committee was launching an inquiry into Texas school library content. Within that communication, Representative Krause included a 16-page list of more than 850 books under review by the Committee. The list was sent to several large Texas school districts, with a letter seeking information related to the number and cost for copies of each book maintained. Some districts have engaged in dialogue responsive to the letter; many others are refusing to respond, believing the inquiry falls outside the perimeters of the Public Information Act. Either way, the request has brought about much discussion regarding library resource acquisition and removal.
Board policy EF (LEGAL) and (LOCAL) govern the acquisition, use, review, and removal of library resources. While there are “standards” for library materials that are adopted via Texas state regulations, these standards are more holistic in nature and do not address content-specific matters or provide guidelines for the acquisition of literature with adult/mature content. As such, school districts are afforded substantial discretion with respect to the materials and resources acquired for their libraries (note, regulation of curriculum is addressed independent of library resources voluntarily accessed by students). EF (LEGAL) provides that a “district possesses significant discretion to determine the content of its school libraries.” Additionally, most EF (LOCAL) policies provide authority for routine review and modification of library offerings with text such as, “[s]election of resources is an ongoing process that includes the removal of resources no longer appropriate…” This policy language provides the authority for school district administration to remove library materials that it deems “no longer appropriate,” which would include content inconsistent with educational objectives, such as vulgar or sexually explicit dialogue.
Importantly, however, the discretionary removal language within policy must be read in conjunction with all other provisions of EF (LOCAL), including any process articulated for response to parent and student complaints. Removal of a library book occurring subsequent to a challenge is a common provision of EF (LOCAL), where most districts incorporate an explicit review and reconsideration process (inclusive of committee membership and findings) prior to removal. Review of your district’s EF (LOCAL), therefore, is imperative before making a decision to remove a library book from your catalog.
Equally important to policy review is consideration of the basis for removal of the resource. Board policy EF (LEGAL) articulates the role played by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in all library removal considerations. Essentially, any removal of a library book implicates the First Amendment, requiring consideration of motive. Federal courts have held that students have a right to consume materials in school libraries that represent a variety of viewpoints, ideas, and messages. EF (LEGAL) reiterates this proposition aptly, “[a] district shall not remove materials from a library for the purpose of denying students access to ideas with which the district disagrees.” In sum, when removing a book from the library shelves, a school district must be prepared to establish that the resource is “inappropriate” and worthy of removal, not because of a disagreement with the political, religious, social, or moral ideas expressed, but because of the book’s clash with the District’s educational objectives (e.g., “vulgar” or pervasively sexual content).
Because the review and removal of literature and library resources implicates legal and local policy, as well as state and federal law, we recommend dialogue with your school district’s attorney when considering removal of a resource, regardless of whether responsive to a parent challenge or based on administrative discretion.