Controversies over sexually explicit books in public school libraries are heating up hundreds of school board races in districts across Texas ahead of Saturday’s local elections.
Keller Independent School District is one of the districts where debates about explicit books and how school officials are handling the controversy is a hot-button campaign issue.
“Not all books and magazines belong in school libraries, just as not all movies are intended for all audiences,” said Sandi Walker, one of seven candidates running for three Keller ISD school board seats on the May 7 ballot. “Books containing sexually explicit material should not be available to minors in public school.”
That has turned out to be a controversial position in Keller and other school districts across the state and country.
Parents in Keller, a Fort Worth-area suburb, first found what they considered pornographic material in their local school libraries last October—including a book containing explicit illustrations of minors performing various sex acts.
Since then, they’ve been fighting for district officials to acknowledge and remove explicit books containing graphic sex and other content inappropriate for underage students.
“These books are not meant for kids,” a Keller dad told the school board in March.
They’ve also raised concerns about the district’s lack of transparency and accountability, but their top complaint is that the school board isn’t listening to the community.
When parents first brought explicit books to the board’s attention, trustee Craig Allen said he had confidence in the administration and didn’t see their “missteps” as evidence of a widespread problem.
“I have not heard one thing they [opposing candidates] would do differently, especially on books,” he said last month.
Allen is running for re-election against Micah Young. Incumbent Karina Davis drew two challengers, Joni Shaw Smith and Julie Nors. Walker is running for an open seat against James Duncan.
Young, Smith, and Walker have all garnered support from grassroots activists who want the district to be more proactive in keeping obscene and inappropriate content out of taxpayer-funded school libraries.
The X-rated books also spurred a local pastor to weigh in on school board elections in Keller and other districts.
“If you haven’t looked at the material that is in the school books in our school libraries, I want you to look,” Pastor Robert Morris told his Gateway Church congregation last Sunday. “It is as pornographic as anything you’ve ever read.”
Morris urged church members to to vote and “pray for God’s guidance” and “for everyone who’s running.” He showed slides featuring voting dates and listing Young, Smith, and Walker as “church family members running.”
The election had drawn national attention, as well. Fight for Schools, the parent group in Loudon County, Virginia, that sparked the parent movement, identified Young, Smith, and Walker as “candidates to watch” due to their focus on transparency and accountability.
Others in Keller ISD are critical of parents and candidates committed to cleaning up school libraries.
Last week, Board of Trustees President Ruthie Keyes blamed a campaign flyer for exposing kids to explicit material, instead of the actual library book quoted in the mailer. The mailer was sent by a political action committee backing Young, Smith, and Walker.
Supporters of the trio were also confronted outside the polls during early voting by a man who told a young child with him that “they hate you” and “hate people of color and hate gay people.”
Keller parents say the explicit book issue is part of a larger problem in public education.
“This is a national movement of parents all over the country who are tired of the liberal agenda in our schools and the fiscal irresponsibility that especially Texas taxpayers have had to pay for,” said Kathy May, a Keller mom and grassroots activist for parental rights in education.
The latest academic performance reports for Keller ISD show just 40 to 55 percent of third- to eighth-grade students read at or above grade level.
Election Day is Saturday, May 7. Voting information can be found on the Keller ISD website.