Fort Bend ISD School Board Considers Major Policy Changes to Book Selection & Reconsideration Policy

Policy EF Local Revisions to be Discussed and Considered during Board Workshop Meeting, April 8

The Fort Bend ISD board of trustees plans to discuss and consider significant changes proposed by trustees David Hamilton and Sonya Jones during the Board Workshop meeting on Monday, April 8.

A copy of the proposed EF Local policy can be found on the FBISD website, and linked here for your convenience. 

Worth noting, FBISD recently undertook an update and revisions to their EF Local policy in April 2023, and the board, including trustees Hamilton and Jones, voted unanimously to adopt the policy. 

Following the March 25 FBISD Board Meeting, Trustee David Hamilton announced plans to bring an updated EF Policy to the Board Workshop Meeting scheduled for April 8, that he says will be brought up for a vote by the school board on April 22.

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The Proposed EF Local Policy: Fort Bend ISD

So let’s take a look at some of the major changes to EF Local as proposed by FBISD trustees Hamilton and Jones. 

Note that FBISD has one EF Legal and Local Policy that treats classroom instructional and school library books available for self-selection, as one and the same. This means the following standards and rules will apply to books used by teachers in classroom lessons and instruction, and books available for student check out in school libraries. The policy does not make any exceptions for books used in AP ELA or Dual-Credit courses. 

Next, let’s look at how the policy defines “Educationally Suitable” (which following the 5th Circuit’s Court of Appeals injunction of HB900’s vendor ratings requirement, seems to be a new favorite buzz word being employed by those trying to ban books that contain content they don’t like). 

Standards 1-3 & 8 appear to come directly from the TSLAC standards on school library collection. It’s unclear exactly where standards 4-7 come from, but the language is mirrored in many other District’s EFB Local (library) policies. Standards 9-12, however, raise a lot of questions and concerns.

Let’s look at standard 9. The TSLAC Standards (purple) prohibit the possession, acquisition and purchase of harmful material, sexually explicit material (as rated by the now defunct vendor rating requirement of HB900?), or library material that is “pervasively vulgar or educationally unsuitable AS REFERENCED BY PICO V. BOARD OF EDUCATION (1982).” {emphasis ours}

Note, the TSLAC standards don't define "pervasively vulgar or educationally unsuitable." And the TSLAC standards definitely don't give self-deputized moral crusaders, school board members, moms for liberty, or other folks attempting to “enforce” their subjective opinions on the community the power to set those definitions for the community. 

The only term that is explicitly defined is "harmful material," as written in Texas Penal Code 43.24:

(2) "Harmful material" means material whose dominant theme taken as a whole:
(A) appeals to the prurient interest of a minor, in sex, nudity, or excretion;
(B) is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable for minors; and
(C) is utterly without redeeming social value for minors.

Any attempt to create or expound on these definitions for the purpose of removing or preventing access to library materials will likely lead to a blatant violation of students first amendment rights.

So the liberties the authors of this FBISD proposed policy EF Local take here, paired with the erasure of any mention of the Pico Supreme Court ruling, are concerning.

And who is charged with determining what “descriptions of sexual acts” “stimulate desire…amongst minors”? How exactly would someone determine that? What is the threshold for prohibition? Are Romeo & Juliet and The Great Gatsby on the chopping block? How about books that include stories of surviving and overcoming sexual abuse? Toni Morrison's Beloved and Bluest Eye have been targeted for removal by extremists who falsely claim her stories that graphically (and accurately) describe the brutalities of racism, slavery and sexual abuse meet the legal Penal Code definitions of "pervasively vulgar," "harmful," and "obscene." These are absolutely at risk for removal in FBISD if the board adopts this policy as written.

Moving on to standard number 10. Again- this is criteria made up by people who have no expertise in library collection, protecting students’ first amendment freedoms, determining what is or isn’t age and developmentally appropriate for students (you know- like our librarian educators do). What is a “non-explicit sexual act”? Is that a kiss? Is that holding hands? Is that a joke or an inuendo intended to convey some aspect of a story? 

And let’s not overlook the bans on explicit frontal nudity. Similar prohibitions in FL have resulted in school librarians being instructed to draw clothing on naked goblins and cartoon babies. Welcome to the slippery slope, y’all. 

Standard 11, again, goes beyond any of the legal requirements laid out in HB900 and the TSLAC standards, and poses significant risk to student’s first amendment freedom to read diverse and inclusive literature. Books that center and celebrate BIPOC & LGBTQIA+ culture and identities are often targeted over claims that they “promote” or “advocate” for “CRT” or “gender ideology.” Would this standard be used to target books like those?   

The final standard, prohibits books that “advocate or promote unlawful or criminal activity, including the illegal use of alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs by minors. Again- no where in HB900 or the TSLAC Standards, or the Supreme Court precedent of Pico, for that matter, does any law prohibit books that contain references to alcohol/drugs/illegal activity in library books or classroom books. 

The policy reiterates “references” to sex and criminal activity won’t automatically be considered “educationally unsuitable.” But books that “advocate or promote sexual or criminal activity” will be. So again we ask, what is the threshold? When does something cross the line from simply “referencing” sex or a crime, to “promoting and advocating.” This is such a subjective standard, it seems ripe for all kinds of overreach. 

Especially when we consider the authority the policy gives one single District employee.

The FBISD Proposed EF Local Policy disregards the TSLAC standard that requires a certified librarian educator or dedicated trained library staff member be responsible for selection and acquisition of library materials, and instead assigns these duties to the only District employee whom the board directly oversees- the Superintendent. 

Finally, let’s look at the “Protesting Instructional Resource Decisions” section of the proposed EF Local Policy. This new proposed policy, gives the Superintendent, or their “designee” total and complete authority over determining how to respond to requests to reconsider instructional resources (both classroom and school library books). 

The TSLAC Standards, which were adopted by the SBOE as part of the implementation of HB900, pretty clearly lay out how a reconsideration process for a school library book, should go.

The proposed EF Local Policy fails to meet many of the TSLAC requirements for a reconsideration process. The Superintendent may or may not decide to refer a book challenge to a reconsideration committee. 

There is no explanation in the policy to indicate how a reconsideration is formed, or who it includes. The policy also states “The Superintendent may accept, reject, or modify the committee’s recommendation.” 

What is the point of having a reconsideration committee, if one District employee, who is under the direct authority of the board of trustees, can just throw out any reconsideration committee decision they don’t like, or fear their boss (the board) won’t like? 

Take Action

Hopefully by now you understand what is at stake, when the Fort Bend ISD School Board considers these proposed EF Local changes, on Monday. It's time to act. 

  1. E-mail the Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees and ask them to reject the proposed policy as written. Encourage them to meet with FBISD stakeholders- like parents, students and librarians- to workshop recommendations that could strengthen EF Local, without jeopardizing students’ rights. 
  2. Sign up to speak at Monday’s Board Workshop Meeting, in opposition to the proposed EF Local changes and in support of taking more time to gather stakeholder input, and perhaps time for TASB’s next policy update packet due out in May 2024 that will likely include additional EF policy guidance, and require another change.
  3. Consider reaching out to Unite Against Book Bans or starting a Fight for the First petition to find, organize and mobilize supporters of libraries and the freedom to read in FBISD. Let us know if you have questions about either of these resources, or options.
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