Controversies over sexually explicit books in public school libraries are impacting hundreds of school board races in districts across Texas as the Saturday election approaches.
Prosper Independent School District is among those where debates about explicit books are a hot-button campaign issue.
“It’s definitely a polarizing topic,” said Nataly Huddleston, one of eight candidates competing for three trustee seats in the affluent North Texas district.
Some Prosper parents say district officials haven’t done enough to proactively identify and remove inappropriate books. Others within and outside of the district argue no books should be removed without a formal review, if at all.
The debates started in January, when a group of Prosper parents and community members asked the district to review 82 books with obscene, sexually explicit, or other content they considered inappropriate for student libraries.
Superintendent Holly Ferguson agreed, saying the district would review each book to “see if we can immediately determine that [it] does not belong on that campus without the need for a formal review process.”
Following district policies that allow school officials to remove books that are “pervasively vulgar” or not age-appropriate, librarians reviewed the books and removed 20 titles containing material they determined to be “vulgar or explicit.”
Ferguson told Prosper Citizen Group the district had already removed two other titles with graphic descriptions and illustrations of minors engaged in sex, “Lawn Boy” and “Gender Queer,” bringing the total to 22. (The group’s discovery that “Gender Queer” was still in Prosper ISD libraries prompted a follow-up with Ferguson by State Rep. Jared Patterson (R–Frisco), who has been championing the issue on behalf of local parents.)
The remaining books were required to go through a formal review process.
In March, the National Coalition Against Censorship threatened Prosper ISD with legal action, claiming the district “improperly” removed the books.
Huddleston, who is running for Place 3 on the Prosper ISD school board against incumbent Kelly Cavender and challenger Lanford Rodgers, believes the book issue is a serious problem, though not the only one facing the district.
“We need to clean it up fast, respect parental authority, follow the law aggressively, and get back to focusing on academic proficiency,” she said.
“The board has the ultimate authority,” she added. “They need to use it to clean up the district.”
“This isn’t a censorship issue; it’s an age-appropriate material issue,” said candidate Kerry Antwine, who’s running for the open Place 1 seat against Jorden Dial and Kristin Meier.
“We have age requirements for so many things, but some want to act like it doesn’t apply to books,” he told Texas Scorecard.
Antwine said he learned during his 40 years of experience in education, as a teacher and an administrator, that “kids want boundaries.”
He said Prosper ISD officials can improve the district’s book review policies to make the process faster and more transparent. Last month, the Texas Education Agency issued a new model policy for selecting and reviewing school library books.
“I definitely want parents to have a say,” he added. “It shouldn’t have taken this long for some of this information to come to light.”
Prosper parents who are aware of the explicit books say they’re a major concern, but they also see the district’s handling of the controversy as a symptom of a larger problem: a lack of transparency and accountability.
They also hope the book debates don’t overshadow other problems within the district.
“We need to know where the candidates stand on serious issues,” said a Prosper mom, citing declining literacy rates, drugs in the schools, students not being disciplined, understaffing, and teachers leaving because they don’t feel supported by the administration.
She also noted that no one knows who is on the book review committees (members are chosen by the library coordinator), and there’s still been no accountability for how the books got into district libraries.
Parents are continuing to submit books for review. About eight of the challenged titles formally reviewed so far were removed from Prosper ISD libraries, but the district has yet to publish a list of those books.
“They’ve lost the trust of the community,” Huddleston said. “What matters now is to make the right decision and follow the law.”
Election Day is Saturday, May 7.