Major Texas school districts are resisting a Republican state representative’s request that they divulge information on books kept in classrooms and libraries, as part of attempts to remove titles targeted by conservative parents and politicians.
The Austin and Dallas independent school districts, two of the largest in the state, said they would not respond to a request to go through a list of about 850 books, noting how many copies schools have and how much the books cost, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Houston independent school district, the largest in Texas, did not say what it would do.
Across the US, Republican officials and activists are increasingly focusing on education as an effective political tool. In the most prominent case, in Virginia, Republicans this month won back the governor’s mansion in a campaign focused on the supposed dangers of critical race theory in state schools.
Critical race theory, an academic discipline that examines the ways in which racism operates in US laws and society, is not taught in public schools in Virginia. Regardless, the Republican candidate for governor, Glenn Youngkin, promised to ban it.
In Texas, Matt Krause, chair of the state committee on general investigating and a Republican candidate for attorney general, wrote to schools, saying “students, parents and taxpayers” had asked to have certain books removed.
Schools were asked to note any books that could “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”.
Many books on the list deal with race, sex or LGBTQ+ issues, with the majority concerning LGBTQ+ topics, the Chronicle reported.
Krause also asked districts to identify additional books on subjects including sexually transmitted diseases, sexually explicit images and graphic presentations of sexual behavior.
Last Wednesday, the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, directed the state education agency to investigate criminal activity related to “the availability of pornography” in schools.
Referring to two memoirs with LGBTQ+ characters and scenes of sexual activity, Abbott has also asked state education officials to develop statewide standards to prevent “pornography” and “other obscene content in Texas public schools”.
Such moves have sparked anger and confusion.
Ovidia Molina, president of the Texas State Teachers Association, criticized “disturbing and political overreach into the classroom”.
“This is an obvious attack on diversity and an attempt to score political points at the expense of our children’s education,” she said.
Some Democrats and lawyers encouraged school districts not to respond to the letter from Krause, as it does not have the legal force of a subpoena.
“The letter is an unofficial request, and as such we are not going to respond to it,” Robyn L Harris, a spokeswoman for the Dallas school district, told the Chronicle.
“After doing more legal research, we’ve decided that a response is not necessary, especially since anyone can search our library catalogs on this website,” said an Austin school districts spokesman, Jason Stanford.