The Fort Worth Independent School District has closed down campus libraries to students for the first two weeks of school as district employees review book titles for sexually explicit or violent content.
The move was made to ensure library materials don’t go against a new state law, according to the district.
Lina Ruiz, who covers early childhood education for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, said the law the district is worried about is House Bill 900, which requires book vendors to rate titles sold to schools.
“What we know right now is that books with a ‘sexually explicit’ rating will be removed from bookshelves and books with a ‘sexually relevant’ rating will have to require parental permission for students to check them out from libraries,” Ruiz said. “We do not know what the criteria is as of right now of what that would entail for each of those ratings.”
The law goes into effect Sept. 1, but the criteria to determine the ratings are not expected until the spring, Ruiz said.
“In the meantime, I think it’s unclear what librarians are supposed to do,” she said. “It remains to be seen, at least for the Fort Worth Independent School District. Their libraries are going to be closed until Friday. So once that once we reach that point, well, we will see. We are kind of just waiting to see what books have been pulled off of shelves. My educated guess would be that the school district would rather be safe than sorry and not want to risk liability. So these books could be hanging in limbo for months. We don’t know yet.”
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Ruiz said that of the over 100 titles that have already been pulled from shelves across the district, it is possible some may be returned at some point in the future. This broader review and removal followed a decision by the district to pull three books from shelves earlier in the summer because district officials had deemed them inappropriate.
The Tarrant County chapter of the conservative advocacy group Citizens Defending Freedom has also been vocal about the content of the district’s libraries, Ruiz said.
“This conservative group, they’re fairly new to Fort Worth. Their Tarrant County chapter has been active less than a year, I believe,” she said. “They have been very vocal in regards to the Fort Worth Independent School District in terms of, you know, they’ve spoken out publicly about books that they’ve found specifically on middle and high school shelves that they think are inappropriate for children.”
This local debate about which books belong in schools mirrors a broader fight in Texas and around the country about what materials should be available to young people in both public and school libraries.
Conservative groups have been challenging titles in an attempt to get books they deem inappropriate – often with LGBTQ themes or characters, or dealing with issues of race – removed from shelves. Pushback against book challenges has been equally fierce, with parents and advocates speaking out for keeping contested books in circulation.
“These debates have popped up all over the nation. It seems like we’re playing Whack-A-Mole across school districts everywhere,” Ruiz said. “And it seems like it’s only a matter of time until the conversation comes up in another school district of what books should be allowed in school libraries and what books should not. I think this new law signed by Governor Abbott has accelerated [that conversation], at least in the Tarrant County and Fort Worth area.”