Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is calling on state education officials to prevent what he considers "pornographic and obscene” content in public school books.
Days ago, the Republican governor told the Texas Association of School Boards to figure out the extent to which inappropriate content exists in public schools across the state and to remove it if found.
But the association issued a response explaining that it doesn’t have any authority over school districts and that Abbott would need to take his request to other agencies within the state.
On Monday, Abbott issued a directive to the Texas Education Agency, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, and the Texas Board of Education to develop a statewide standard to prevent the presence of “pornography and other obscene content” in schools.
In the letter, Abbott said he wants to "protect children" but didn't elaborate on exactly what standards he wants the agencies to establish.
“Instead of addressing the concerns of parents and shielding Texas children from pornography in public schools, the Texas Association of School Boards has attempted to wash its hands clean of the issue by abdicating any and all responsibility in the matter,” Abbott wrote in the new letter. “Given this negligence, the State of Texas now calls on you to do what the Texas Association of School Boards refuses to do.”
In part, the governor’s demands stem from a local school district removing a certain book from its shelves.
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Keller ISD removed a book from one of its high school libraries after some parents raised concerns over the book's graphic images.
That book – a comic-book style memoir called "Gender Queer" by Maia Kobabe – talks about the author's journey with gender identity. It features illustrations of sexual content, along with discussions related to pronouns, acceptance and hormone-blocking drugs.
In his letter, Abbott also voiced concerns he said he has with another LGBTQ memoir called "In the Dream House" by Carmen Maria Machado, which the governor claims also contains “overtly sexual and pornographic acts.”
That book, along with several others, was also recently removed from classrooms in Leander ISD, which is located near Austin.
The TEA and other agencies said they will work together to develop the statewide standards on books that Abbott has requested.
“The Texas Education Agency takes seriously Governor Abbott’s call for action on this matter of great importance to families of Texas public school students,” Education Commissioner Mike Morath said in a statement.
According to the Dallas Morning News, Keven Ellis, chair of the State Board of Education, said the board he oversees will work collaboratively with TEA and the library commission to develop the statewide standards Abbott requested.
“Our public school families throughout Texas should have the reassurance that their children are not at risk of being confronted with pornographic and obscene material when they are in school,” Ellis said in a statement.
The demand to establish a standard on books comes just months after the Texas legislature passed two laws restricting how teachers can talk about race-related subjects in school.
Conservatives in particular have been raising questions this year over what is being taught in schools. Most recently, Rep. Matt Krause of Fort Worth, a Republican, launched an inquiry into school districts to figure out which types of books students have access to, including an 850 book list of novels about racism and sexuality. He asked districts to identify which books students are able to access for reading but he has not commented on what he plans to do with that information.