Texas Republican leaders, having labored through several regular sessions and three special sessions, were finally able this summer to solve the pressing problem of transgender high school athletes competing according to how they identify themselves. Students are now by law required to compete according to their birth sex.

Under the state’s high school rules, of course, that was already the case.

The only relevant controversy I’ve been able to find in Texas involved Mack Beggs, a transgender athlete who was forced to wrestle against girls — something neither he nor the girls wanted. His birth certificate said he was a girl, but his physique said otherwise. He won the state championship his junior and senior years. 

Now Republican leaders are taking on another massive menace: School librarians. 

Gov. Greg Abbott last week sent a letter to the Texas Association of School Boards telling them they need to get on the problem of “pornography or other inappropriate content” in public schools.

“A growing number of parents of Texas students are becoming increasingly alarmed about some of the books and other content found in public school libraries that are extremely inappropriate in the public education system,” Abbott wrote, adding: “You have an obligation to Texas parents and students to ensure that no child in Texas is exposed to pornography or other inappropriate content while inside a Texas public school.”

Who knew that our schools were pushing pornography? If some books that deal with sex are in school libraries, my bet is that their content is more honest and less harmful than the pornography kids are viewing on the internet.

In a follow-up letter Monday to the Texas Education Agency, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and the State Board of Education, Abbott repeated the alarm and gave two examples, one regarding a controversy in Leander and another In Keller.

The book at issue in Keller Independent School District, a wealthy suburb of Fort Worth, is called Gender Queer: A Memoir. About two weeks ago a high school student checked out the book, which is a graphic novel. When school officials became aware of social media criticism by the student’s parent that it included depictions of adolescent sex, they retrieved it from the student and pulled it from the shelf. A district spokesperson said the librarians were unaware of any objectionable pictures in the book, which was given the Alex Award for “young adult literature” by the American Library Association. The book also received a favorable review from the School Library Journal.

That may represent a genuine controversy over sex in books aimed at teenagers, but controversies involving two books in a state with more than 1,000 school districts hardly indicate that pornography is rampant in Texas public schools. 

Abbott wasn’t the first Texas Republican to take on school librarians. A week earlier, Matt Krause, a Fort Worth state representative who chairs the House General Investigating Committee used his authority in that position to begin an investigation into school libraries.

Krause sent a letter to an undisclosed number of school superintendents. He attached a three-page list of 850 books and commanded district officials to disclose how many copies of each book their districts have, on what campuses and whether they were in the libraries or classrooms, and how much the district had paid for the books.

Then there was this catch-all demand: “Please identify any other books or content in your District, specifying the campus location and funds spent on acquisition, that address or contain the following topics: human sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), sexually explicit images, graphic presentations of sexual behavior that is in violation of the law, or contain material that might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

Krause must think schools are overstaffed. He gave them a deadline of Friday to respond.

Krause is refusing to disclose which school districts are on his list, but the Texas Tribune identified Northside and San Antonio Independent School districts as among those receiving the honor. Area superintendents are reportedly talking among themselves about how to respond. A San Antonio official said they have not yet decided how to respond and a Northside spokesman said in an email: “NISD has not had sufficient time to fully review the request nor have we begun to compile information.”

Abbott’s and Krause’s actions are clearly part of a national Republican strategy to turn school boards into a political target, a wedge issue playing on anger regarding everything from the year-long COVID shutdown to mask and vaccination mandates to the bogus notion that Critical Race Theory is being taught in public schools in order to make white students feel guilty and hate America.

Sometimes school officials can be too responsive. Recently the Katy school district pulled a book off the shelves and cancelled an author’s virtual appearance at an elementary school after 400 people identifying themselves as parents in a district with 85,000 students signed a petition claiming the author’s books “are being promoted to the students and their parents without any notice of the overt Critical Race Theory teachings throughout both books.”

The petition said author Jerry Craft’s books “are wrought with critical race theory in the form of teaching children that their white privilege inherently comes with microaggressions which must be kept in check.”

Craft has won the prestigious John Newbery Medal. His graphic novels present the experiences of Black students who represent a small minority in highly selective private schools. Of course they include some moments of discomfort, but also a good amount of humor. 

Rosalind Casey, an expert (recognized as such by many others in addition to her father) on children’s literature and an assistant manager at Books of Wonder, New York’s preeminent children’s bookstore, expressed astonishment at the criticism.

“They must think that any book with a Black protagonist is promoting critical race theory,” said Casey, a San Antonio native who formerly worked at the Twig Bookstore. “Our kids, both Black and white, love his books. So do their parents.” 

Katy officials said their policy is that a complaint from a single parent about a book requires that the book be removed from the classroom and from library circulation until a committee has reviewed it. The charge that they are not responsive to parents seems a bit overwrought. Hyper-sensitive, maybe. 

In this case, the author of the petition was Bonnie Anderson, a failed candidate for the Katy school board who sued the district last spring over its mask mandate. Many other Katy parents were angry at the district’s action. One called it “a stain on the district” at a district forum, according to the Houston Chronicle. Some parents believe learning about uncomfortable realities is an important part of education. 

After Craft’s books were examined by the review committee, they were restored to circulation and he made his virtual appearance before students.

There have been no reports of psychologically damaged children. Apparently they are not the snowflakes Ms. Anderson, as well as Rep. Krause, are worried about. 

Rick Casey

Rick Casey's career spans four decades of award-winning reporting on San Antonio. He previously worked as a metro columnist for the former San Antonio Light and, later, the San Antonio Express-News.