Amarillo-area schools told to report books on race, sexuality for school content investigation

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AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Some schools in the Amarillo area were among those told to scour their shelves for books about women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and health by a Texas lawmaker and report back by Nov. 12. However, with both motives around the inquiry and consequences for not responding unclear, schools and families alike have been left with a list of questions.

Part I | What is the inquiry?

Texas Attorney General Candidate Representative Matt Krause issued a letter to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and superintendents that began an inquiry into school district content. Krause asked for responses by Nov. 12 from each school district regarding:

  • How many copies each district has of books from this 16-page list of around 850 books.
  • The “amount of funds” spent by school districts used to get the books from that list.
  • A note of “any other books or content” in the district, including location and funding used by the districts to get them, that address or include:
    • Human sexuality
    • Sexually transmitted diseases
    • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)
    • “Sexually explicit images”
    • “Graphic presentations of sexual behavior that is in violation of the law,” or
    • “Contain material that might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

Many of the books on the list include stories of people impacted or overcoming discrimination such as racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia, from works of fiction to memoirs and anthologies. These include award-winning books and bestsellers such as “The Confessions of Nat Turner” by William Styron and “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates or “LGBT Families” by Leanne K. Currie-McGhee, “The Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to their Younger Selves” edited by Sarah Moon, and Michael J. Basso’s “The Underground Guide to Teenage Sexuality: An Essential Handbook for Today’s Teens and Parents.”

The list also included many books regarding subjects such as health information, teen pregnancy, legal rights for teens, and debate guides for issues such as abortion.

It appeared that some of these books might be under consideration for whether or not they violate House Bill 3979, the “critical race theory law” intended to limit how race-related subjects are taught in public schools. The law said a teacher cannot “require or make part of a course” a series of race-related concepts, including the ideas that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or that someone is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive” based on their race or sex.

However, numerous aspects regarding Krause’s request were not explained in the text of the letter:

  • It was not clear in the letter whether books present in a school – whether or not they are included in an official curriculum – that discuss topics like race will be considered to be violating HB 3979.
  • It was not made clear why books regarding sexually transmitted diseases or health information made the list when official state health education guidelines also cover and offer resources regarding such topics.
  • Because the letter said the report should include school library and classroom collections, it was unclear whether Krause expects districts to detail what books were donated or bought personally by teachers or parents, and from where.
  • It is not clear what will happen to the districts that have the books, or other qualifying works, on this list.

Part II | Local school districts

MyHighPlains.com reached out to multiple Amarillo-area school districts regarding whether they were included in Krause’s letter, and asked follow-up questions about the processes that could be involved in making the requested reports.

Questions asked by MyHighPlains.com initially:

  • Was the district among the districts sent the letter and given the Nov. 12 deadline to respond?
  • How would a district know what books / how many copies existed in their district, between personal collections of teachers and library donations / interlibrary loans?
    • Are these books already cataloged somewhere?
  • How does a district decide what content could “contain material that might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex,”?

Answers given by the districts as of Nov. 1, the Monday after the letter was sent out:

  • Amarillo ISD
    • Amarillo ISD reported that it was among the school districts given the letter and Nov. 12 deadline.
      • The district offered ‘some information about its philosophy and process’ in a statement:
        ” As educators, we are keenly aware of the significant impact developing a love of reading has on a child’s education and future success. This is why it is important for students to have the opportunity to choose the books they want to read and for parents to be able to have a say in the type of content their child is reading.
        Our school libraries are stocked with a broad selection of books, and our students, like others across the Panhandle, have access to hundreds of thousands of titles through online resources like the Harrington Library Consortium. Books that are part of AISD’s curriculum are generally vetted through a process that includes teachers, district and school administration, and any other individuals who offer specific content expertise to evaluate whether the material is age, grade and content appropriate.
        As students select books that are appropriate for their reading level and for their likes, interests and values, we want to support individual choice. We want parents to feel empowered with the knowledge of what their child is reading and to know that we support them and want to work with them in guiding those choices. This includes having conversations with their child’s teacher and school to make sure the books their student is reading in or out of the classroom align with their family’s unique values. “
    • MyHighPlains.com asked further about the cataloging process for books in the district, given that students are able to access works from across the Panhandle and through the consortium. We also asked if, and how, parents and families’ views on the books may be taken into account while the district makes its report.
  • Canyon ISD
  • River Road ISD
    • River Road ISD told MyHighPlains.com that it was not among the school districts given the letter and Nov. 12 deadline.
    • River Road ISD also reported that it had seen no problems regarding the content within its schools, and received no parent complaints.
    • However, River Road ISD also commented that any content presented to students by teachers requires administrative approval.
  • Highland Park ISD
    • Highland Park ISD told MyHighPlains.com that it was not among the school districts given the letter and Nov. 12 deadline.
  • Bushland ISD
    • Bushland ISD, as of Monday, Nov. 1, has not replied to questions from MyHighPlains.com regarding the school content inquiry.
  • Lubbock ISD
    • Lubbock ISD, as of Monday, Nov. 1, has not replied to questions from MyHighPlains.com regarding the school content inquiry.
    • While not in the Amarillo area, Lubbock ISD is a neighboring “5-A” district, which includes 4-A and 5-A schools such as Lubbock High School.
      • Amarillo ISD, the only area district so far to tell MyHighPlains.com that it received the letter, is also a 5-A district. Meanwhile, Canyon ISD is a 4-A district, but notably includes 5-A schools such as Randall.
  • Districts that have publicly revealed they received the letter include Fort Worth ISD and Austin and Dallas school districts. If 5-A districts such as Lubbock were also on the list, it could lend weight to the idea that Krause’s letter was sent to only 5-A school districts regardless of whether or not those districts had seen issues with school content in the recent past.
    • If only 5-A school districts appear to have received the letter, despite Krause refusing to comment on which districts were pointed out or why, the trend could reveal a full list of Texas districts now facing a Nov. 12 deadline with unclear consequences at stake.

Part III | What now?

Because of the lack of clarity from districts, educational and scholastic agencies, state legislators, and the law, it may be a wait until mid-to-late November to see the road ahead for Krause’s new inquiry. Even later, it may be January 2022 before more guidance is issued regarding what teachers, parents, and students should expect to go through to comply with new regulations on sports.

In the meantime, public libraries can provide access to digital and digital education resources, as well as books through requests, holds, and interlibrary loan programs. The Texas State Library Archives Commission also provides portals such as TexQuest for literary, media, information, research, and curriculum resources.

Further, the US Department of Education published resources for students including those who are among the LGBTQ+ community. The Office for Civil Rights within the DoEd has also collected data and resources regarding accessibility and equity in school.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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