Southlake, Texas, schools restrict class libraries after backlash over anti-racist book

An English teacher on a Carroll campus wrapped their class library with yellow caution tape, according to a photo provided by another teacher. Pictures from another classroom Thursday showed bookshelves covered with black sheets of paper and a sign that read, “You can’t read any of the books on my shelves.”

“How do I know what 44 sets of parents find offensive?” asked a Carroll teacher. “We have been told: ‘The parents are our clients. We have to do what they want. ‘And that’s what they want. ”

Prior to the compulsory education, teachers began to take stock of which books might have to go based on the new rules. An elementary school teacher said she should get rid of “Separate Is Never Equal,” a picture book by Duncan Tonatiuh about a Mexican American family’s struggle to end segregation in California in the 1940s. Another said she deposed “A Good Kind of Trouble” by Lisa Moore Ramée because the girl in the middle of the story gets involved in the Black Lives Matter movement.

An English teacher in high school said it would take her months to review each book in her classroom and that she would probably have to get rid of many of them based on the guidelines. She said she no longer feels comfortable keeping a copy of “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, in part because it depicts racialized reactions to a police shooting or other books by Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison.

“One of the questions we have to ask is ‘Does the author have a neutral attitude to the subject?'” Said the teacher. “Well, if you are Toni Morrison, then how can you have a neutral attitude towards racism? Now the story is told through this rose-colored lens, and all of this creates a cooling effect that is going to hurt our students. ”

The struggle in Southlake over which books should be allowed in schools is part of a broader national movement led by parents who oppose lessons about racism, history and LGBTQ discrimination, which some conservatives have mistakenly labeled as critical race theory. Across the country in recent months, parent groups have launched campaigns to remove books focusing on racism from schools.

In Franklin, Tennessee, a group called Moms for Liberty has tried to get an elementary school to ban dozens of books that it says are too divisive for children. The list includes “Martin Luther King Jr. and March on Washington” by Frances E. Ruffin and “The Story of Ruby Bridges” by Robert Coles, about the 6-year-old black girl who integrated a Louisiana elementary school in 1960.

In York County, Pennsylvania, last month, the board of the Central York School District voted to ban teachers from using hundreds of books recommended by the district’s own diversity committee. After students protested and attracted national media attention and support from Bernice King, a daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., the school board reversed its decision, saying it never intended to ban the books permanently.

And last week, the Katy Independent School District, a sprawling suburb of 85,000 students outside Houston, removed award-winning graphic novels about the lives of young black boys written by Jerry Craft after a group of parents signed a petition falsely claiming the books promoted critical race theory. The district also canceled a meeting-author event with Craft, but after much media attention, it announced that the event could be scheduled after the district finished reviewing the books.

Kim Anderson, executive director of the National Education Association, which represents elementary school teachers, said her group has never seen so many reports that schools were pressured to ban books. She said parents and school leaders should trust that teachers should provide students with age-appropriate reading material that reflects the diversity of American students.

“It’s scary to think we’re back in the book ban era,” Anderson said. “I suppose our question is: Why don’t school board members who commit these acts or legislators who commit these acts believe that America’s students deserve an honest and truthful reflection of our history?”

Pushed to remove books from classrooms in Southlake comes more than a year into a fierce battle over the way Carroll School District handles issues of race, identity and student discipline. Southlake parents protested last fall after the predominantly white but diversifying school district tried to implement a plan that would have required new lessons on diversity and new rules to crack down on discrimination. A mother sued to stop the plan, and a conservative group called the Southlake Families PAC raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support school board candidates who vowed to oppose the changes.

In the midst of the fight, which is the subject of a six-part NBC News podcast, a fourth-grade student at Johnson Elementary School found a copy of “This Book Is Anti-Racist” in her teacher’s class library and decided to take it home. The book, a bestseller in the New York Times in 2020, contains illustrated lessons in understanding ways racism is ingrained in society and guidance on what children can do to fight back.

Fourth-grade mother Sarah Muns – who had donated $ 1,000 to the Southlake Families PAC – was outraged when she saw the book, she wrote on social media. The teacher, Rickie Farah, agreed to remove the book from her class library, but Muns was upset about how Farah handled the situation and how she treated her daughter afterwards, according to Muns’ social media post. Muns raised his complaint to senior officials, who investigated and decided not to punish Farah.

But then Monday night, Carroll’s school board voted 3-2 to overturn the administration’s decision and formally reprimand Farah, who was named Johnson’s teacher in 2021 and 2021. Farah declined to comment, and Muns did not respond to a message requesting an interview.

Before casting one of the two dissenting votes, school board member Sheri Mills issued a warning to all educators who may have seen the meeting on the district’s live feed.

“I would like to let teachers know if you are concerned about teaching in this school district that you should see this poll,” said Mills, who declined to be interviewed. “I want you to know you’re right in being worried.”

The next morning, the message began to spread across the district that teachers should demand to go through all the books in their classrooms and get rid of those who might disturb the parents. The training in deciding which books to remove is scheduled for Friday afternoon toward the end of a district-wide development day, according to a schedule reviewed by NBC News. The document does not specify a deadline for teachers to remove books that are considered inappropriate.

Some parents of National Junior Honor Society students received an e-mail this week that allowed their children to get involved in the process: The children wanted to help middle school teachers create catalogs of each book in their classes, a voluntary option that would count with the honorary society’s annual requirement to complete 10 hours of community service.

A Carroll ISD teacher hung a sign and a quote against censorship from Judy Blume in a classroom protesting the new policy. The quote reads in part, “It’s not just the books under fire now that worry me. It’s the books that will never be written.”Acquired by NBC News

Jennifer Hough, the mother of two high school students, has been a leading voice calling for new diversity programs in the district. She said she has been hearing all week from teachers, students and co-parents who are saddened by the attack.

“I feel like I’m in a dystopian novel,” Hough said. “Students and people who share pictures of teachers’ bookshelves covered and tell children that they cannot read books on their shelves. Are we really so afraid that our children will be exposed to things and be challenged? ”

Teachers said this is not the first time the district has cracked down on content shared in classrooms. The school system told teachers this year that they could no longer use Scholastic News, a current event magazine for children, after parents complained that its articles showed a liberal bias, according to four teachers and internal emails shared with NBC News .

Some educators said they were particularly saddened that the latest push is aimed at classroom libraries, which should give children easy access to a wide range of reading materials because research shows that children are more likely to become avid readers if they find books that are particularly interesting to them. In recent years, before the setback to new diversity programs, Carroll had worked to add a more diverse collection of books to classroom libraries that relied on grants and donations.

“Basically, it’s all the books that I feel we need to get rid of now,” one teacher said.

An English teacher in high school said she had difficult conversations with some of her students who were upset when they saw teachers anticipating clearing books from their shelves or covering their libraries with cautionary tape.

“My classroom library allows students to just escape into a book that they might not find otherwise,” the teacher said. “The ability to get into the pages of a book and go with someone from as far away as Afghanistan. The ability to meet someone who is like you, and even though it’s fiction, you’ve felt all your life that you do not belong, but he gets you, and that means everything. That’s what we’re losing. ”

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