State Reps. Tom Oliverson (R–Cypress) and Harold Dutton (D–Houston) each filed legislation to address the issue of explicit materials in school libraries after nearly two years of parental complaints regarding inappropriate books.
Oliverson’s House Bill 338 would require book publishers to assign content ratings to each book before selling them to public and charter schools in Texas. The content guidelines range from BK-G (considered safe for any student) to BK-MA (strictly for students 17 and older). For the ratings, students’ ages would also be considered to halt their reading above grade level.
HB 338 would require additional oversight by the Texas Education Agency and expand its authority. Under HB 338, TEA would be responsible for communicating with publishers and enforcing the guidelines, which are rather vague, using terms like “little or no” violence and sexuality in books rated for children 7 and older. Also, HB 338 does not provide any mechanism for parental involvement or complaint if a parent disagrees with a TEA-approved rating.
Additionally, HB 338 does not address books donated to libraries or books bought through a third-party seller, such as Barnes & Noble or Amazon, rather than the publishing company.
Dutton’s House Bill 917 addresses the process by which children could be denied or granted access to questionable materials by placing them in a restricted category. Children would only be able to access these materials with the written consent of their parent or guardian.
Under HB 917, “each school district or open-enrollment charter school shall, in consultation with district or school parents, teachers, and administrators, adopt procedures to create a list of restricted access library materials.”
School districts that have already restricted access to questionable materials faced accusations of censorship and “book burning,” but Oliverson rebutted that argument, telling ABC13, “This is not piling books in the corner and setting them on fire.”
Indeed, neither measure would allow for the removal of materials from the library system. Instead, both bills seek to implement what Fredericksburg ISD parents call “book boundaries.”
The 88th Legislative Session begins January 10.