Parents in the Central Texas town of Fredericksburg scored a win this week in their fight to get pornographic books out of schools, despite opposition from local Democrats and media.
At a school board meeting Monday night, Fredericksburg Independent School District officials unanimously agreed to implement new policies for expediting the removal of sexually explicit books in school libraries.
“The kids won,” said Fredericksburg ISD parent Tara Petsch, crediting Superintendent Joe Rodriguez with championing changes to district policies that citizens had requested.
Petsch, a former teacher and school administrator from Houston, is helping lead a local parent movement that is fighting to protect Fredericksburg kids from pornography in schools—a battle that’s playing out in school districts across the state.
“We’ve never asked for book banning. We’ve never asked for book burning. We’ve asked for book boundaries,” Petsch told Texas Scorecard last week. “We want age-appropriate books in our children’s libraries.”
On Monday night, parents showed up prepared to persuade the school board to address their concerns by reading aloud excerpts from several challenged books.
Other speakers noted the harmful effects exposure to pornography has on children, the criminal aspect of distributing obscene material to minors, and the incompatibility of sexually explicit books with the district’s core values.
After listening to citizens’ comments as well as policy changes proposed by Rodriguez to address their concerns, the board approved new procedures for reviewing challenged books by a vote of 7-0.
In another win for parents, Assistant Superintendent Robyn Derington announced some of the books they’d challenged in February as inappropriate would be taken out of libraries, after an administrative review found they were “pervasively vulgar, not educationally suitable, and in some cases, sexually explicit.”
“These books will be permanently removed because there is no place for them in our libraries,” she said.
Rodriguez said the district has “a long list” of books to review as soon as processes are finalized under the policy changes and new committees are formed.
New Policies and Procedures
Rodriguez, who joined the district as superintendent last year, emphasized that existing policies gave school board members and administrators discretion to remove library books that are “pervasively vulgar” or not educationally suitable.
Any district parent, employee, or resident can challenge books based on appropriateness.
Yet according to Derington, the district has never had any challenges before this year. Policies existed, but no procedures were in place to implement them.
The policy changes recommended by Rodriguez and adopted by the board create efficient procedures for reviewing challenged books.
Campus principals will continue to receive initial complaints but will have five days to determine whether a book is vulgar or unsuitable, and reconsideration committees will have 30 days to complete reviews while challenged books are off library shelves.
The district will establish two review committees, one for elementary and one for secondary, and create a simpler challenge form. Rodriguez also added language reinforcing school officials’ authority to remove vulgar or unsuitable books, to ensure future boards understand the flexibility they have.
Winning Strategy and Opposition
Petsch says Fredericksburg parents are still actively monitoring school libraries and will continue to report vulgar books to the district.
They’ve followed simple strategies for effective citizen activism, such as organizing an online community of like-minded citizens and starting a website where they post resources including a list of sexually explicit books found in Fredericksburg ISD libraries.
The activists have also attracted opponents.
Ken Cooke, who publishes the local paper, wrote an editorial targeting parents’ book challenges as anti-free speech “book banning.”
In another editorial, he joked that he “never found the porn stash” in his high school and said he would be thrilled to see more kids with books in their hands, no matter what they were reading.” (Emphasis added.)
Cooke’s wife created an online petition to “keep books on shelves in Fredericksburg ISD.”
The local Gillespie County Democratic Party even ran an ad in Cooke’s paper calling the parents who raised concerns about porn in schools “a few extremists” and echoing Cooke’s comment that “school librarians are trained, certified and knowledgeable about books” so no checks were needed.
Petsch was most rattled to learn Cooke had submitted an open records request to the district in an attempt to seek the names of people who have questioned the pornographic books.
But she didn’t let the intimidation deter her from standing up to protect kids from porn in schools.
“We will not stop fighting for our children,” she said.