UPDATED April 9, 2022.
Frisco parents are fuming over sexually explicit books found in their local school libraries after district officials assured them “each book is reviewed.” It turns out those reviews come from third-party publications, not the district officials tasked with approving school materials.
Now, parents in Frisco Independent School District want to know why their local officials aren’t working proactively to identify and remove explicit library books containing graphic images and descriptions of sex acts many consider obscene.
More importantly, they want to know how sexually explicit books got into school libraries in the first place, and what the district is doing to keep it from happening again.
How Did These Books Get into Schools?
Earlier this week, pictures circulated on social media showing excerpts from two explicit books that had been found in district libraries [WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES]: “Jack of Hearts and Other Parts” and “Blue Is the Warmest Color.”
District officials said both titles were removed from library shelves “immediately” following parents’ complaints, but district residents say that’s not enough.
“How did these inappropriate books get into our schools in the first place?” asked Frisco resident Shannon Ta, responding to one of the images on Facebook. “Someone has to place an order. All of a sudden these books are in our schools for viewing and checking out.”
“We just want a straight answer,” she said. “From Prosper to Frisco to McKinney… what are we missing here?”
Questions and Half-Answers
For months, parents across the state have been calling for the removal of sexually explicit books from their children’s school libraries and urging their local elected school board members to stop allowing inappropriate sexual content into schools.
Last month, State Rep. Jared Patterson (R–Frisco) sent a letter to all Texas school superintendents, asking them to pledge to “take all necessary steps to root out and remove explicit and obscene books.”
Frisco ISD Superintendent Mike Waldrip declined to sign the pledge but assured Patterson the district carefully reviews all library books.
In Frisco ISD, we take the task of providing access to knowledge and ideas very seriously. As a result, we individually curate each of our 73 school library collections. Even when opening a new campus, we do not purchase book bundles from vendors, but instead provide vendors with specific criteria for developing our opening collections. Each book is reviewed for compliance with those guidelines.
But he acknowledged the district’s processes and procedures only go so far:
With hundreds of thousands of titles in Frisco ISD, it is impossible for school staff to read every title prior to a book being placed on library shelves. As a result, our selection processes rely on reviews of books from professional publications.
Waldrip added, “The ultimate authority for determining and approving the curriculum and instructional program of the Frisco Independent School District lies with the School Board.”
That’s standard school district policy across the state.
Yet Frisco ISD school board trustee Natalie Hebert shifted blame to third-party book reviewers and vendors.
“Unfortunately, it is not feasible for a librarian to read 15,000 books when we open a school. So instead, we depend on the recommendations groups’ reviews, including companies like Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist,” Hebert said in a response to a Facebook post Monday, echoing Waldrip’s letter.
“The listed companies provide the reviews to the vendors, as well,” she added. “It is the business of the review company to provide accurate information regarding age appropriateness following their review of materials.”
But a vendor that sells library books to Texas school districts says they don’t review or make “editorial decisions” about the books they sell. They “rely on the good judgment of state and local boards to monitor the suitability of any particular title.”
Community members are frustrated by district officials constantly passing the buck.
“What I find remarkable about the district response here is that they are essentially saying, ‘Parents, we can’t screen all these books, so it’s up to you,’” said Frisco resident Thomas Tupper.
Parents aren’t the only ones concerned.
Retired Frisco ISD teacher Julie Harville, who shared the image from “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” said teachers have told her they’re disappointed with the district’s “declining educational standards” and have complained that school libraries are providing less quality literature in favor of “trendy” young adult novels.
That category includes “graphic novels” (a reference to comic book-style illustrations, not sexual content) like “Blue,” which is described in reviews as a “New York Times bestseller” about a teenage school girl “growing up, falling in love, and coming out.”
Hebert says the book slipped through the cracks.
“The review process began immediately. The first step in our process is to remove the book from the shelf by having the librarians check the books out to themselves,” Hebert said. “This book is a no-brainer about whether it is appropriate; however, we have to initiate the review process to avoid violating the First Amendment.”
It’s not clear if the board intends to permanently remove the book under a policy that allows district officials to remove library books that are “pervasively vulgar” or educationally unsuitable, or if school employees will conduct an informal reconsideration review.
Parents want to know how many other books have slipped through the cracks and who is going to find them.
In November, Gov. Greg Abbott directed state agencies to “develop statewide standards to prevent the presence of pornography and other obscene content in Texas public schools,” after State Rep. Matt Krause (R–Fort Worth) launched a broader inquiry into potentially questionable books in school libraries and classrooms.
While waiting for those standards to materialize, some districts are continuing to defend sexually explicit books, while others are making at least some inaccessible to underage school kids.
Hebert invited Frisco ISD parents, residents, and employees to challenge any books they believe are inappropriate by following the district’s established procedures for reviewing and removing content that’s not appropriate for the school setting.
One Frisco taxpayer suggested to Hebert the district could afford to hire more library assistants to help with the task.
The process of vetting library books involves school librarians, teachers, students, parents, and administrators.
On Wednesday, Patterson reported that superintendents from 31 of the state’s 1,000+ school districts had signed the pledge to proactively identify and remove explicit books.
But elected school board members are ultimately responsible.
“The sad thing is they are only addressing this with urgency now because it is election season and they know that this smut won’t sit right with most decent people,” said Kate Tonda.
Local school board elections in Frisco ISD and many other districts across the state are set for May 7. Candidates’ positions on dealing with the books are becoming a key campaign issue.
As books containing graphic sex continue to be discovered on school library shelves, it’s clear parents and teachers in Frisco and elsewhere are right to be concerned.
“Our kids deserve better,” Harville said.