by Chloe Latham Sikes, Phl.D. • Knowledge is Power • September 26, 2023 •
Texas lawmakers passed a new book banning law this spring to take effect this school year. House Bill 900 institutes new book rating and removal standards for school library books considered “sexually inappropriate” for students. While the bill purports to protect students from sensitive content, the reality is that the bill further enables book banning and censorship of LGBTQ+ voices and history and other books by Black and Latino authors containing themes related to race, gender and sexuality.
Efforts to remove and limit access to books that present diverse viewpoints are designed to erase the social gains made in racial and gender equity (IDRA, 2022). These actions harm students’ opportunities for academic and civic engagement.
Book publishers and library advocates filed a lawsuit challenging the bill (Schneid, 2023), arguing that the law violates constitutional free speech and due process rights due to its vague requirements paired with stiff penalties for noncompliance (see Book People v. Wong, 2023).
Last week, a federal judge agreed and stopped HB 900 from taking effect (Albanese, 2023). More decisions about the bill’s implementation are forthcoming. Below we outline the bill’s proposed changes for Texas schools.
Update: On September 26 (after this article was published) the Fifth Circuit Court issued an administrative stay to the lower court’s preliminary injunction, allowing this book-banning law to go into effect pending further action. You can follow IDRA’s Twitter account (@IDRAedu) and a thread by Children’s Defense Fund-Texas (@CDFTexas) for updates.
Changes for School Library Book Standards if HB 900 Goes into Effect
- The Texas State Library and Archives Commission must adopt new standards for school library collection development with State Board of Education approval by January 1, 2024.
- Book vendors (publishers) must review each book for “sexually relevant” or “sexually explicit” content and submit ratings to the Texas Education Agency by April 4, 2024.
- The Texas Education Agency is authorized to enforce the vendor rating system and maintain a list of non-compliant book vendors.
Changes for School Libraries, Students and Families if HB 900 Goes into Effect
- Parents must grant consent for students to check out school library books rated “sexually relevant.”
- School districts must remove material rated “sexually explicit” after vendor ratings are published by TEA.
- School districts and charter school librarians must conduct a review every two years of all books in the school library catalog that are rated in this system and must issue a report.
- Students may see books removed from library shelves after the rating system has been put in place.
District library book review policies can stay in place, and the bill does not require additional review of instructional materials or other classroom resources. Parents can still inquire about or contest book removals based on their district’s grievance policies.
Schools should continue to stock and use books, materials, and other learning tools that reflect and affirm students’ diverse identities that engage them in their learning. Notably, the law states that books cannot be removed solely based on an author or a character’s background. School staff are not asked to rate or remove books. They do risk violating students’ first amendment rights by prematurely removing books from school libraries.
To learn more, see Texans for the Right to Read Coalition, which IDRA is a member of and that offers an analysis of HB 900 and other resources for and about school libraries.
[© 2023, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 26, 2023, edition of Knowledge is Power by IDRA. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]