North East Independent School District officials permanently removed more than 100 books from school library shelves as part of a review process of 432 books targeted by a state Republican lawmaker, replacing them with books on similar subjects, administrators told the school board Monday.

Campus librarians returned 311 books to library shelves after examining their contents and moved 11 titles to campuses that serve older students, said Esmeralda Munoz, executive director of learning support services.

Librarians deemed another 110 titles needed to be “updated” — or removed — because of poor professional reviews, a lack of reviews or outdated content, Munoz said. Some had not been checked out recently. Those books were replaced by a newer edition or a book that was published more recently on the same subject, or they were replaced by books with “more positive reviews on a similar subject.”

“Some of the titles may have been reviewed and updated based at the campus level, if they were identified as lost, had lack of circulation or if they were in poor physical condition,” she said.

NEISD librarians began pulling copies of the books from school library shelves Dec. 2 to weed out books that contain “vulgar or obscene material,” NEISD Superintendent Sean Maika wrote in a letter to families. The district, the second-largest in San Antonio with 60,000 students, used the list of about 850 books state Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) asked districts to identify as part of an investigation into “school district content.”

In late October, Krause, chair of the House Committee on General Investigating, told the Texas Education Agency that he was initiating the inquiry into books that address race, sex or “material that might make students feel discomfort.” Gov. Greg Abbott followed in November, directing the TEA to investigate criminal activity related to “the availability of pornography” in public schools.

School districts were not obligated legally to conduct the reviews.

Some examples of books that NEISD removed include the graphic novel V for Vendetta by Alan Moore for “lack of reviews” and “Hello,” I Lied: A Novel by M.E. Kerr for “poor professional reviews.” The latter novel is about a gay 16-year-old boy who comes out to his childhood friends one summer and falls in love with a girl.

NEISD created a webpage with a list of all 432 titles reviewed and the ultimate decision by the district to keep, move or remove the books.

NEISD officials initiated the book review after finding two books on library shelves that were not “appropriate.” The district used Krause’s list as a starting point to review library books after a racist title, The Story of Little Black Sambo, was found in some NEISD libraries last spring. The book hadn’t been checked out since 1988, Maika said at a December board meeting. A book on Krause’s list, Lawn Boy, was located in an elementary school library. Maika said this book was not appropriate for elementary students to read.

Lawn Boy has been targeted by parents in other school districts because the book contains passages in which the adult author reflects on sexual encounters he had with a boy when they were in the fourth grade.

NEISD did not remove Lawn Boy but moved it from an elementary school to a high school library, according to the online list. The district also removed several titles about abortion.

The only person to speak during public comment was Amy Senia, an NEISD alumna and civil rights attorney. She told the board that library books were foundational to her ability to go to college and earn her legal degree from Stanford Law School. When she heard about the book review, she returned to the community to investigate.

“What I learned was troubling. The decision by Dr. Maika and [Chief Instructional Officer Anthony] Jarrett to remove those books, even if it was temporary, was a violation of NEISD students’ First Amendment rights,” she said. “Public schools in this country are not places of indoctrination. They’re not places where the ideas that children can read about are determined by those people who are in power.”

Senia also expressed concern that the board did not get to vote on the book review process but only heard a presentation Monday. She said district officials admitted that using the Krause list as a starting point was “politically motivated” and that anyone who looks at the list will realize it targets certain groups of people, such as members of the LGBTQ community.

“Using that as a jumping off list to then have certain books be identified as for older audiences, without any further explanation of what that means or what criteria will be used, stigmatizes not only those books but the children that want to read them and identify with them,” she said.

One student Senia said she spoke to told her “Stop trying to get rid of us. I’m not a freak. Don’t erase me.”

Moreover, NEISD parents will now have more say in what their children read. Parents may now access their students library book checkout histories through the same website where they review students’ grades. They also may block their students from having access to books suited for an older audience, Munoz said.

Additionally, parents can participate in campus and districtwide committees to review books that have been challenged for removal. The districtwide committee reviews books that the campus committees have decided should be removed to see if the titles should be taken off all library shelves, Jarrett said.

“Our attempt is really to create a place that is built and designed solely around kids and their needs and their interests,” he said. “This weeding process will be systemically in place, so it is a continuous effort for us to grow our libraries to be a student center because they’re the nucleus of a school.”

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Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.