A Letter to Texas Superintendents, Trustees & Curriculum Directors:

The law does not require removal of books without careful consideration and thoughtful deliberation

On Monday, May 6, 2024, Texas Freedom to Read Project, Students Engaged in Advancing TexasAuthors Against Book Bans, and Children's Defense Fund of Texas sent the following joint letter to Superintendents, Trustees and Curriculum Directors, throughout the state of Texas, regarding the implementation of HB900 and the Texas State Library & Archive Commission library development standards. 

Dear Superintendent, Board of Trustees & Curriculum Directors,

This letter, brought to you by Texas Freedom to Read Project and organizational partners,  is intended to support the implementation of new state library standards developed by the Texas State Library and Archive Commission (TSLAC) and adopted by the State Board of Education as mandated by House Bill 900 (HB 900). (1)

Texas Freedom to Read Project is a 501c3 nonprofit organization founded and led by Texas parent volunteers dedicated to ensuring our children, and all Texans, continue to enjoy the constitutionally protected rights to read free of censorship and government overreach. 

At Texas Freedom to Read Project, we know that districts across the state have received political pressure from outside groups to remove books rapidly and in large numbers. As parents, we recognize that not all books are appropriate for all readers of all ages, and we know that students need to see themselves and the difficult experiences they may encounter in literature and read about topics that will empower them to navigate the world around them. The political groups calling for book removals often cite the new library standards adopted in December, which they claim require districts to remove books that they (not the law), define as pervasively vulgar or educationally unsuitable.

Those terms, “educationally unsuitable” and “pervasively vulgar,” come from Island Trees School District v. Pico, a 1982 Supreme Court case in which the court ordered a school district to return several books to its shelves and, in a plurality decision, forbade districts from removing books for ideological reasons. HB 900 builds off of that decision: whereas the court in Pico said districts may remove books that are educationally unsuitable or pervasively vulgar, the new standards, as mandated by HB 900, say that districts must remove such books.

But neither that case nor HB 900 defines those terms, and political groups have taken advantage of that ambiguity to push for overbroad interpretations of both phrases, often resulting in devastating effects for school districts.

To be clear, the law does not require removal of books without careful consideration and thoughtful deliberation. In fact, determining if a book is “pervasively vulgar” requires an awareness of the text as a whole, and understanding whether or not it is “educationally suitable” depends on knowing its possible purpose and uses in an educational setting. (2) This is best achieved through an orderly challenge process that includes a community-based reconsideration committee and a transparent and accountable appeals process. 

Districts that have tried to rush this process, or who have distilled the evaluation process down to a rubric or a checklist, have made embarrassing mistakes, removing books like Brave New World from classrooms or the graphic adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary from library shelves. (3)

Beyond embarrassment and bad press, though, there are real risks to changing policies in order to expedite book removals or encourage overbroad interpretations of vague legal terms. Specifically, districts that have made such changes have faced legal challenges for violating students’ rights, along with increased teacher turnover and dissatisfaction. (4) Even worse, these districts have reduced opportunities for student learning, restricting books that regularly appear on Advanced Placement literature exams and removing choice books that can boost student achievement. The research is clear: having the freedom to read increases academic and behavioral outcomes for students, and restrictions to that freedom should not be undertaken lightly. (5)

Fortunately, most districts already have in place a process that ensures compliance with the law while avoiding such risks. We encourage districts facing pressure to remove books to carefully read the law and the new standards, to consult with librarians, teachers, and a wide array of parents and students, to read the books under attack in their entirety, and to resist calls to make drastic changes to systems that are already working. And we are prepared to support you in following this guidance.


Texas Freedom to Read Project

Authors Against Book Bans

Children’s Defense Fund of Texas

Students Engaged in Advancing Texas (SEAT)

(1) TSLAC released “Collection Development Standards: A Resource Guide for School Libraries” in April 2024 to help school librarians, educators, district administrators, and the school community understand and apply the mandatory collection development standards.

(2) In fact, while “educationally unsuitable” and “pervasively vulgar” are undefined in the law, one term that is defined in HB 900 is "harmful material," as written in Texas Penal Code 43.24, which does explicitly require a consideration of the text as a whole:

(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.

(3) See, for example, “In Conroe ISD, the Books Are Quietly Disappearing Off the Shelves” and “North Texas District Pulls from Library to Review, Including the Bible and ‘Anne Frank’s diary’ Adaptation.” The adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary was returned to shelves after public outcry.

(4)  The ACLU of Texas filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights in November 2022 regarding the book evaluation rubric adopted by Keller ISD, for example, and the federal government opened an investigation into Granbury ISD after it banned school library books dealing with sexuality and gender. While districts across Texas face a spike in resignations, a report from 2022 showed that two North Texas districts that have led the charge in book removals—Granbury ISD and Grapevine-Colleyville ISD—have experienced the highest levels of attrition in the region. 

(5)  See Ivey, Gay and Peter Johnston, Teens Choosing to Read: Fostering Social, Emotional, and Intellectual Growth Through Books (2023). For a summary, see “New Research Shows Why the Freedom to Read Matters.”


Click here for a PDF Version of this letter.


About Texas Freedom to Read Project

Texas Freedom to Read Project supports, connects and mobilizes parent and community member led initiatives fighting for student rights and against censorship and book bans in Texas. Texas Freedom to Read Project strives to defend, protect and preserve the rights of every Texan, especially public school students, to freely read and access information and ideas. Learn more about us here

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