Why schools may be facing criminal prosecution over content of library books

Books most often cited as 'controversial' cover race and LGBTQ+ issues
By: | November 11, 2021

Battles to ban books from school libraries hit a fever pitch as Texas districts now face a criminal investigation into the “availability of pornographic material that serves no educational purpose.”

On multiple occasions this week, Gov. Gregg Abbott has claimed that “Texas students have been exposed to pornographic books and content in Texas public schools” and cited by name two memoirs that cover LGBTQ+ themes.

Immediate action is needed to protect students while the state prepares to more rigorously regulate the content of library books, Abbott said in a letter directing Education Commissioner Mike Morath to refer for prosecution any instances of minors having access to pornographic materials. “The presence of pornography in schools is not only inappropriate, but it is also against the law,” the governor wrote. “We have a responsibility to ensure that no Texas child is exposed to pornography or obscene content while in a Texas public school, and your investigation will help accomplish this mission.”

In the letter, Abbott does not describe the types of pornography he believes students have been exposed to. But he hinted at his targets in another letter, sent Monday, ordering Morath and other agencies to develop K-12 standards that would ensure students aren’t exposed to pornography “or other inappropriate content” in schools.

“A growing number of parents of Texas students are rightfully outraged about highly inappropriate books and other content in public school libraries. The most disturbing cases include material that is clearly pornographic,” Abbott wrote in Monday’s letter. He also cited the following two instances:

  • Keller ISD removed Gender Queer: a Memoir, by Maia Kobabe, from a school library “after complaints of the book’s pornographic drawings.”
  • Leander ISD removed In the Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado, and several books from classrooms “because of inappropriate content.”

Gender Queer: a Memoir recounts the author’s struggles to come out to family members as non-binary and asexual. In the Dream House describes domestic abuse in a lesbian relationship.

Most banned books

The American Library Association regularly updates lists of the most-challenged books. In each of the last three years, the book that was banned most often was George by Alex Gino, which has been restricted due to “LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint and not reflecting ‘the values of our community,'” the ALA says.

Earlier this fall, Texas State Rep. Matt Krause announced he was investigating school library books that pertain to race or sexuality or “make students feel discomfort,” the Texas Tribune reported. Krause released a list of 850 books and insisted district report if they have the titles, how many copies, and how much they cost, according to the Texas Tribune.

Elsewhere, in Virginia, two Spotsylvania County School Board members suggested burning books after ordering libraries to remove any titles with sexually explicit content, NBCWashington.com reported. The decision was made after a parent raised concerns about the LGBTQ+ fiction that was available on the district’s library app, NBCWashington.com reported.

Librarians in various parts of the country are pushing back against renewed efforts to remove books from schools.

“Every book is not for every reader but every child should have access to books they may want to read,” the Tennessee Association of School Librarians said in a statement about efforts to ban books. “School librarians strive to know learners and assist them in finding books that fit their needs and interests. Ready access to a wide variety of reading materials increases the chances that learners will become readers and choose to read.”