AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A new report by PEN America reveals Texas has banned more books than any other state. PEN advocates for freedom of expression.
This news comes at the start of “Banned Books Week,” an annual campaign by the American Library Association and Amnesty International that celebrates the freedom to read.
Students at the Austin Independent School District’s Liberal Arts and Science Academy are making magnets during lunch to participate.
“This one just says, ‘read banned books, read banned books,'” freshman Tvisha Gurung said.
Gurung and her classmates are sticking together, taking a stand on their right to read all books.
“It’s really important that everyone gets to read what they want to have proper representation throughout,” junior Rebecca Scaramuzzi said.
According to PEN, almost 142 districts in 32 states banned more than 2,500 books in the 2021-22 school year.
Texas has banned 801 books in 22 districts, PEN says.
The PEN report shows most of the banned books involve themes surrounding the LGBTQ community or include prominent characters of color. Some other books banned include content that educates readers on issues of race and racism.
The Liberal Arts and Science Academy put out a note to its students, welcoming them to come educate themselves on their right to read during Banned Books Week.
“Banned Books Week is celebrated during the week of Sept. 19-24. This past year we have seen an escalating number of book challenges and outright bans across nearly every state, with a huge number happening in Texas. Educate yourself on your First Amendment rights and stop by the library that week for some related activities,” the note reads.
Librarian Elizabeth Switek is leading the efforts on her campus to encourage book inclusivity.
“Ultimately, they’re going to find a way to read what they would like to read,” Switek said.
Still, there are advocates like Fort Worth Rep. Matt Krause, who feel school just isn’t the place for some topics to be explored.
“I understand some schools, some districts may be celebrating Banned Books Week, but we need to make sure that only age-appropriate materials are in our kids’ schools,” Krause said. “I think that’s perfectly reasonable for parents to demand and expect that, and I think what you’re seeing is a lot of parents moving in that direction.”
Students at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy are hoping by celebrating all books, it might make a difference.
“We can only do so much, but what we do still matters,” freshman Haven Lee said. “As long as we’re making like a tiny difference, I think it counts.”
It’s worth pointing out PEN found nationwide, school administrators or board members made the overwhelming majority of the decisions to ban books. Sometimes they circumvented their own rules to do so.
Less than 4% of books banned followed challenge guidelines set by the American Library Association.
PEN also looked at the the impact of organized groups pushing for book bans. Its tracking shows at least 20% of book bans in the last school year came after direct actions by such groups.
They add there is evidence influence by these groups contributed to another 30% of the bans. PEN does track banned books nationwide.