Fort Bend ISD has removed one book from its library shelves and several others have come under review because of complaints about them in individual classrooms – moves some parents are criticizing as censorship.
News that the district has removed a title from its shelves comes amid a rising national debate about the content of some books in school libraries.
“I don’t believe in banning any books,” said Sumita Chowdhury Gosh, a parent with two children in Fort Bend ISD schools. “Especially when we have the internet freely available, which has a lot more toxic content.”
District administrators, in conversation last week with the Fort Bend Star, explained that only one book had been fully removed, and that the district’s process for hearing complaints had existed for years.
A Houston Chronicle investigation was the first to unveil a list of books either under review or removed at Fort Bend ISD. As part of the investigation, the newspaper sought records from districts across Texas, determining through public information requests sent to almost 600 school districts that they performed more than 2,000 book reviews on 880 titles, of which 1,740 were from the 2021-2022 school year, according to the article.
“The books referenced in the Houston Chronicle article mostly represent texts that were read in individual classrooms in the district,” said Sherry Williams, a spokesperson for the district. “Those books went through informal processes and may have been removed from use in singular classrooms, or an alternate reading opportunity was provided to the students.”
Melissa Hubbard, the district’s executive director of teaching and learning, in a follow-up conversation with the Star provided more detail about the books that came under review.
Essentially, only one book, “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, has come under a formal review and, in a May reconsideration meeting, district representatives decided not to keep the title in the collection, Hubbard said.
The title in question is a graphic memoir that tells readers about Kobabe’s experience growing up non-gender-conforming, according to a description on Publisher’s Weekly.
District representatives review the book after a parent filed formal reconsideration paperwork, Hubbard said.
“We have had that formal reconsideration process for multiple years,” Hubbard said.
The district is working to revise its policies on books based on guidance from the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Association of School Boards, Hubbard said.
Several other titles have received complaints on a campus level, but those have not gone through the full process, Hubbard said.
One of those books, which the Houston Chronicle article listed as “under review,” is “Night,” by Elie Wiesel.
In that instance, a teacher had been using the novel as a classroom novel, when a parent expressed concern about some of the imagery in the text, Hubbard said.
“In instances like this, if we know a parent is concerned about reading a book, a lot of times we’ll give that parent an option of something else they can read,” Hubbard said. “In this case, we found out about it after the class finished the text.”
As a result of that complaint, the individual campus determined that the novel would remain on a campus list of options, Hubbard said. But if a classroom is going to use the novel as its only option, then the teacher must send a permission slip home to parents, Hubbard said.
Fort Bend ISD is not the only school district to field complaints about “Night” amid the latest uproar about book content. But the decision for some districts to remove that title has been controversial, because it’s a memoir about the author’s time in concentration camps during the Holocaust.
Despite the recent cases, Hubbard said Fort Bend ISD has fared better than some school districts in Texas and elsewhere when it comes to complaints about books.
“We’ve been very fortunate the district hasn’t had the same scrutiny and attention when it comes to books that some other districts have had,” she said. “I attribute that to the diversity of the community.”
Gosh in a conversation with the Star gave praise to a district policy that lets parents know what books their children have checked out from the library.
But Gosh criticized the decision to remove any book, mentioning a recent visit to a book burning memorial in Berlin, Germany.
“Where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people as well,” she said.
Still other parents, on a social media page dedicated to discussing the district, criticized the idea of banning books.
“If you could ask them to slow down on the banning, I am running out of money to buy them,” one parent wrote.