KELLER, Texas — Keller ISD adopted new guidelines Monday night for determining what’s appropriate and what’s not in school libraries.
At a sometimes raucous Keller ISD board meeting, members voted 4 to 2 with one abstaining to approve new guidelines upon which to judge the appropriateness of library books.
The district drew national attention when 41 books that were challenged then reviewed by committees of parents and community members and eventually approved for use were again removed from shelves the day before the new school year began.
Many of the books include themes of sexuality.
More than 45 people addressed the board Monday night, with the majority disagreeing with the board’s book policies.
Keller High School senior Cameron Munn told the board he is openly gay and as a middle school student struggling to understand his sexuality, reading books with characters like him made him feel “seen” for the first time.
“The fact is that marginalized students in Keller ISD feel attacked by the school board,” he said. “Something you all don’t seem to understand is that this basic censorship is much more than politics, this is about lives.”
Parents and community members who spoke in favor of a stricter book content policy said it was a parent’s right to decide what their kids should read about gender and sexuality.
“It is my space to teach my child about sexuality and that there are two genders,” one mother said. “It is my space to teach them they are wonderfully and beautifully made in the image of God. It is my space to block them from pornography.”
The district’s policy adopted Monday night lists the following themes on which content will be judged: profanity, kissing, horror, violence, bullying, drug or alcohol or tobacco use by minors, and drug use by adults, as well as glorification of suicide, self-harm, or mental illness; descriptions of non-sexual nudity; sexually explicit conduct or sexual abuse; illustrations or descriptions of nude body parts; passionate or extended kissing; detailed sex scenes.
Then those themes will be judged on whether they are prevalent, common or minimal.
“This is hard for me,” said board member Ruthie Keyes, who said defining prevalent, common, minimal is too subjective.
She said educators who’ve reviewed the guidelines said they’d likely have to remove two-thirds of books from their shelves.
“That’s a lot,” she said.
The new content policy also states material that has been challenged and removed can be reconsidered for reinstatement after 10 years, but material that is challenged and left in the library can be reconsidered after just one year.
In a statement released before the Monday night meeting and then read aloud at the beginning of the meeting, school board president Charles Randklev said, “The new Keller ISD Board of Trustees has acted decisively to protect children from pornographic material.”
“The new policy restores the voice of parents and educators,” he said, adding that Keller ISD “prioritized a child’s innocence over adult politics.”
As Randklev read the statement, some members of the crowd applauded.
But others held signs that said, “return all the books,” or “this is on you.”
Keller ISD superintendent Rick Westfall said moving the books that had been previously approved was only a temporary, until it could be determined that those books met the new guidelines.
“Books that have been challenged by community members as being inappropriate for schools are required to be removed from shelves and held in a Parental Consent Area until the challenge process is complete,” he wrote in a statement on the Keller ISD website. “Previously challenged books are also being moved to a Parental Consent Area to determine if those books meet the new standards in the policy and the guidelines that will soon be considered by the Board.”
School districts statewide continue to face library book challenges and audits which have become a priority for some Republican lawmakers wanting to do away with books about sex, gender or race.
In May of this year, Keller ISD was one of the districts where hundreds of thousands of dollars were dumped into fiery school board races.
Three new conservative-leaning candidates are on the board as a result.