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A Texas school district is reviewing 400 library books after a GOP lawmaker's inquiry

Texas Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, pictured in 2017 in Austin, Texas. In October, he launched a statewide inquiry into school library titles dealing with topics like race, gender and sexuality.
Eric Gay
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AP
Texas Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, pictured in 2017 in Austin, Texas. In October, he launched a statewide inquiry into school library titles dealing with topics like race, gender and sexuality.

One of Texas' largest school districts is reviewing more than 400 of its library books following a Republican lawmaker's statewide inquiry into school library titles dealing with topics like race, gender and sexuality.

The North East Independent School District in San Antonio says it was already in the process of reviewing its library books when state Rep. Matt Krause, who chairs the Texas House's General Investigating Committee, announced his inquiry in late October.

Krause — who is also a candidate for Texas attorney general — sent schools statewide a 16-page list of roughly 850 books related to gender identity, sexuality, race and sexual health, and asked officials to tell him how many copies of the books their libraries hold and how much their districts spent on them.

He said at the time that he was targeting titles 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."

These titles include And Tango Makes Three, a children's book about a same-sex penguin couple and their daughter; the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Confessions of Nat Turner and the nonfiction We the Students: Supreme Court Cases For and About Students.

Some school districts, like Austin and Dallas, have said that they won't comply with Krause's request.

San Antonio district found 414 of those titles in its schools

North East ISD spokesperson Aubrey Chancellor told NPR over email that the district was reviewing its books when it learned of Krause's request, at which point it determined that its libraries held 414 of the books on his list.

That's out of some 800,000 books across the district, she later clarified, and the breakdown varies across its 67 campus libraries.

Chancellor said district officials asked staff to review those books out of an abundance of caution and to make sure they don't contain any obscene or vulgar material.

"For us, this is not about politics or censorship, but rather about ensuring that parents choose what is appropriate for their minor children," Chancellor wrote.

She said the process is moving quickly, with more than 100 books having been reviewed and deemed age-appropriate in a matter of days.

Most are appropriate and will remain on the shelves, she added, but some may contain content that "needs further review to ensure the books are accessible based on age appropriateness."

Faced with student criticism, the district spokesperson calls it a "reshuffle"

Some North East ISD students have already voiced their opposition to the statewide inquiry and review: An online petition titled "Remove the Krause List from all NEISD schools" has accrued nearly 2,000 signatures in about five days.

The petition notes that titles on Krause's list primarily include books about race, resources for safe sex, books about gender identity and stories centering LGBTQ relationships, and said such books offer students important information and a place to see their stories represented.

"Many black and lgbtq students in NEISD are appalled and hurt by NEISD's decision to comply with Matt Krause and suppress our harmless resources and stories," it reads. "We are asking for NEISD to take action against the suppression of our resources, and we are asking students to help us in advocating against this Krause list."

When asked about the petition, Chancellor characterized the review process as part of a broader effort to determine the age-appropriateness of books and move them around as needed.

"If a book needs to be moved from elementary to the secondary level or whether a book at the high school level needs to be placed in a separate section that requires parental permission," she wrote. "The idea is more of a reorganization and a reshuffle — the purpose is not to remove books."

The district is also forming a book review committee to determine which books may need to go in a separate section of the library and launching an electronic tool that parents can use to see which library books their children are checking out.

It's part of a larger GOP push to decide what Texas schools can teach

Krause is one of several Texas Republicans to have recently demanded information about school library books that they deem inappropriate as the highly politicized debate over critical race theory plays out in districts across the country.

Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott asked the state's association of school boards to shield students from library books with "pornographic or obscene material," and then directed state education officials to develop standards for blocking the presence of such books in Texas public schools.

Texas Public Radio has more on Republicans' latest efforts to dictate what can be taught in classrooms.


This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.