GRANBURY, Texas — The American Civil Liberties Union, along with nearly a dozen other civil rights groups, emailed a letter to the Granbury Independent School District on Monday condemning the district's removal of nearly 130 library books from shelves to be reviewed.
The district announced the move in January, following a vote from the school board.
“Schools, and especially school libraries, must be a place where students have access to a wide range of ideas," ACLU Staff Attorney Kate Huddleston said. "The first amendment requires it."
Jeff Meador, the district's communications director, confirmed that the district was creating a library review committee of parents, district stakeholders and educators to review the books. In January, he said most of the books would likely be returned to shelves.
He said the district was reviewing them in accordance with a directive from Governor Greg Abbott to investigate library books for "pornographic content", after State Representative Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, released a list of about 850 books of "concern".
Both Krause's list and the condensed list investigated by Granbury ISD have drawn criticism, and sparked heated debate at school board meetings, because they include a number of books about civil rights, racism, LBTQ+ issue and sex education.
“When we see these mass book bans, they harm students by directly suppressing free speech and sending the message that marginalized students do not belong in the community," Huddleston said.
On Friday, Granbury ISD released a notice to parents and the community to update them on the process. It states that 131 books were under review at the start of the process, and 103 of those books were returned to shelves.
The release states, "At its first meeting, the committee reviewed letters from Governor Abbott to the Texas Education Agency regarding prohibiting pornography in school libraries. Accordingly, the scope of the GISD review centers on 'written or visual material that depicts explicit sexual acts or overtly sexual content.'”
A majority of the committee agreed that over 100 books on the review list did not include material that matched this definition.
Two of the books were confirmed lost and aren't in libraries, according to the district's news release.
One book will be removed for sexually explicit content.
The district says 25 books are still being reviewed.
Back in January, the district confirmed five titles, all by the same author, were removed after an initial review because of overtly sexual content.
Even though a majority of books have been returned to the shelves, the ACLU believes the district needs to both apologize and affirm its commitment to inclusivity.
“That affirmation, after creating a cloud, after removing books about LGBTQ and racial inclusivity from the shelves is so important," Huddleston said. "It’s incredibly important for students to understand the school district considers them a full part of the community, that they fully belong and that their histories and identities are fully reflected on the pages in the school library."
Granbury ISD has denied two requests for interviews with administration or school board members to directly address this issue and process. Meador did not respond to the question of whether or not the district has a response to the ACLU's request for an apology.
Huddleston said the ACLU has not received a response yet.
The district is one many in the state stuck in the crossfire of a battle on what education should look like and who gets to make the decision, when it comes to things like curriculum and library books. Granbury ISD is the first district the ACLU has sent a letter to.
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The district's news release says once the committee finishes its review in March, the district will publish a list of books that will be removed and will hold a public inspection for parents and the public.