UPDATED February 29 to include a link to the district’s dress code.

Trustees at beleaguered Denton Independent School District voted 6-1 to keep two books promoting “transgender” ideology in an elementary school library, rejecting a request to remove the books as educationally unsuitable for young children.

Local families packed the school board meeting Tuesday night to weigh in on both sides of the book issue and to hear arguments in the Level 3 grievance hearing to determine if the titles would stay or go.

Debi Scaggs, whose grandchildren attend school in the district, challenged several elementary school library books last year that included “transgender” content.

The district removed some of the books but kept “Jacob’s New Dress” and “Jacob’s Room to Choose” by Sarah Hoffman.

The decision prompted Scaggs to escalate her challenge.

Local advocacy group Citizens Defending Freedom encouraged Denton dad and trial attorney Mitch Little to represent Scaggs at the Level 3 hearing and speak on behalf of other district parents opposed to school library books they say promote progressive ideology, not education.

“We’re not here to ban books. We’re here to decide if these books are appropriate for young children,” said Melinda Preston, a district grandparent and head of Denton County CDF, during public comments.

During the grievance hearing, Little told trustees the challenge centered on the books’ “lack of educational suitability.”

“Are these books suitable for [kindergarten through 5th grade] students? Do these books foster the societal standards of Denton ISD?” Little asked.

The state’s new collection development standards for school libraries require books to be “age appropriate and suitable to the campus and students it serves.”

The new standards were included in House Bill 900, legislation passed last year to protect school children from sexually explicit and age-inappropriate content.

Little noted school officials must evaluate books based on local priorities and school district standards, as well as five other factors including recommendations from parents and community members and whether the books support school curriculum.

“We do not allow children to cross-dress at Denton ISD or use the bathrooms of the opposite sex. These books encourage children to break our rules,” said Little.

The district’s dress code prohibits attire that “brings undue attention to the student and/or interferes with the educational/learning process.” It also allows each campus to add details that “may be gender specific.”

Little also noted that the author’s stated intent in writing the books was to “spark action” and “amplify LGBTQIA+ experiences.”
“That’s not a statement of educational intent; it’s a statement of progressive activism,” he said.
Little added that students “do not need to go to school to learn about cross-dressing. That is not the purpose of Denton ISD.”

“Those are discussions for parents and students,” he said. “Those are not discussions for teachers and students. Those are not discussions for librarians and students.”

Lisa Thibodeaux, executive director of secondary curriculum, instruction, and staff development, represented the district in the Level 3 grievance.

Thibodeaux said the question was whether the district followed policy and the law when deciding in the Level 2 grievance to keep the books.

According to Thibodeaux, the two challenged books are located in the library at Newton Rayzor Elementary. One has been checked out just three times and the other not at all.

She noted that the new state library standards prohibit removing books based solely on the ideas contained in the material.

She argued that it would be illegal for Denton ISD to remove the two challenged books on the basis that they are “educationally unsuitable,” since the new library standards written into HB 900 by State Rep. Jared Patterson (R–Frisco) prohibit “library material that is pervasively vulgar or educationally unsuitable as referenced in Pico v. Board of Education.”

The controversial Pico plurality opinion suggests school boards can’t declare any “ideas” unsuitable, regardless of readers’ age, when removing library books—although Pico acknowledges school officials have complete discretion over what books to add to their libraries.

Thibodeaux said removing “transgender” books because they are educationally unsuitable would be “in direct opposition” to the new standards.

Proponents of the pro-transgender books argued that parents can opt to keep their kids from seeing age-inappropriate content in school libraries.

However, Trustee Amy Bundgus noted that without a public list of all books in the district’s campus libraries, “I’m missing the part of the process where parents actually have a right to choose” what their students read.

Bundgus cast the lone vote to remove the two challenged books.

“It just makes no sense whatsoever,” Preston told Texas Scorecard following the vote. “We asked them to remove two books that have no educational value. Parents need to continue to rise up and protect their children from a school system that simply does not listen.”

Two trustee positions are on the May 2024 ballot.

District officials are also under fire after two administrators sent electioneering messages to school employees using their Denton ISD email accounts.

The Attorney General’s office sought an injunction and settlement, while the Liberty Justice Center sent a demand letter on behalf of local voters to trigger a mandatory criminal investigation by the Denton County District Attorney.

Community members can direct questions and comments to their elected school board trustees.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.