Students at the Keller Independent School District outside Fort Worth, Texas, went back to school Wednesday. But instead of the focus being on their return, much of the attention has been heaped on an email that was sent out the day before, instructing school staff to pull all copies of a list of more than 40 books from classrooms and school libraries.
The books that were pulled include the graphic novel adaptation of Anne Frank's diary, all versions of the Bible and numerous books with LGBTQ+ themes or characters. The School Board did not say why the Bible and the Anne Frank book were removed, but parents had objected to them, according to the list.
The books on the list have been challenged at the district in the past and while some have been reviewed and put back on shelves, they must all undergo another review under new criteria set by the school board, the school district said in a statement to NPR.
"Right now, Keller ISD's administration is asking our campus staff and librarians to review books that were challenged last year to determine if they meet the requirements of the new policy," it said.
"All of the books included in Tuesday's email have been included on Keller ISD's Book Challenge list over the past year. Books that meet the new guidelines will be returned to the libraries as soon as it is confirmed they comply with the new policy."
Some of the school board's new members were backed by Patriot Mobile Action, a conservative Christian political action committee, the PAC said in a news release.
How the new policy will work is not completely clear to parents, they told NPR. The Texas Tribune reports that the new Keller ISD policies are based on a model from the Texas Education Agency, and that, ultimately, school board members have the ability to accept or reject any material.
Some parents worry about banning books for everyone
Laney Hawes is a parent to four children in the district ranging from first to ninth grade. She said she understands and agrees with parents who don't want their children to read material that is inappropriate for their age. But she doesn't think this is the right way to go about it.
"All of our children are capable and able and ready for different materials," Hawes said. "Not everyone is ready for the same. I agree with that, and I think that those decisions should be made by parents for their own children specifically. I don't think that certain materials that you don't feel like are appropriate for your children should be withheld from my children, too."
Hawes is one of a group of parents who have become more involved with the district in recent years. Hawes and another parent, Gretchen Veling, both volunteered to be part of the group that reviewed books when they were challenged.
Some of the books were already reviewed and put back on shelves under the old policy
Hawes was involved in the review of Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation, while Veling was in the group that reviewed Flamer, the semi-autobiographical graphic novel by Mike Curato.
Both books were discussed within the last year by parents, librarians and teachers who all chose to keep the books on the shelves. But with the books under review again, there are no guarantees they will made available to students.
Veling said she first got involved in the book review committee when she realized that many of the titles being challenged were LGBTQ+ books. She said both her sons are openly gay and when they want to read a book, she typically buys it for them. But her concern is for kids who might not have that same support at home.
"If they don't have access to a book that is reflective of who they are, does it just continue to make them feel like they're in a homophobic area? So I started speaking up because of that," Veling said. "It's to all the other kids that won't have access to it, who really do need access to it."
Keller ISD did not say if there was a timeline for when the book reviews would be completed. But in the meantime, Hawes said she thinks the school board will continue implementing conservative Christian policies.
"They really, really want to attack our curriculum and make sure that no social emotional learning ever enters our curriculum," Hawes said, adding that there are two other spots on the school board that will be up for election next May.