Controversy over debates about race and racism is changing classrooms in America

With new laws restricting teaching about race, history and gender identity in effect in more than a dozen states, students are beginning to see changes in the classroom and more may come in the coming months.

said Jeremy Young, senior director of freedom of expression and education at PEN America that has been tracking censorship in American classrooms.

So far, Young said, these laws have affected classrooms in multiple ways. This has resulted in teachers not bringing up topics that could be considered controversial to avoid problems, changing curricula and school policy, and banning books from schools.

In Missouri, school librarians have been reviewing books available on campus for possible removal for compliance new law This makes it a crime to give students books with sexually explicit material. If school employees violate state law, they can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $2,000 fine.

Meanwhile, in Texas, recent book removals have been linked more broadly to ongoing efforts by community members rather than a direct response to legislative changes.

Kate Huddleston, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Texas, said there has been a worrying trend in school districts pulling books off the shelves in recent months.

Backed by conservative lawmakers, the state’s “critical race theory” law took effect in December and bars teachers from discussing “a currently widely debated and controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.” Huddleston said that not many policies have been put in place to implement state law, but some schools are taking action to determine which books and reading materials students should have.

Nearly a dozen books were pulled late last year from bookstores in the Leander Independent School District in Austin, Texas.

She added that many of these measures are book bans and generally target the history of racism, racial inclusion, gender identity and LGBTQ inclusion.

“Districts target books based on the ideas they contain, and keeping those books off shelves violates the First Amendment and violates students’ rights to access a range of ideas,” Huddleston said, adding that the Texas Civil Liberties Union sends letters to school officials that include an analysis of how they are not complying. Federal law.

One of those school districts was the Keeler Independent School District in North Texas where the day before students returned to school last month, an administrator asked principals and librarians to do so. Remove more than 40 temporary books From the campus shelves, Bryce Neiman, director of communications and legislative affairs at Keeler ISD, told CNN.

The books, including all editions of the Bible and a graphic novel adapted from Anne Frank’s diary, were challenged by parents and community members last year but had to be reviewed again under a new set of standards recently approved by the county board of trustees, he said. School officials.

“If books pass the new standards, as determined by reviews conducted in coordination with campus management and librarians, the books will be immediately returned to the shelves.” Keller ISD Supervisor Rick Westfall He said in a message to neighborhood families and employees.
List of books published on District website Refers to the adaptation of The Anne Frank Diaries and all versions of the Bible have already been brought back into circulation. County officials said a review of the rest of the books is underway.

The Keller ISD is also an example of how heated conflicts develop at school board meetings in some places.

Many schools across the country debated whether books like
For more than a year, the meetings have been the home of protests and hours of public comment about diversity and equity plans, critical race theory and students’ access to “inappropriate content.” Complaints about certain books, including “All Boys Are Not Blue” by George M. Johnson, until school officials issue orders to remove them. In many cases, that meant not following current policies or the formal process, according to PEN America’s Textbook Ban Analysis earlier this year.

Keller ISD and some other districts recently formulated and passed policies that give parents and guardians more control over what students read, and establish strict review processes for selecting library books. Young, a senior director at PEN America, said nearly a dozen school districts in the past few weeks have changed their policies to make it easier to ban books based on their content.

In other school districts, push to remove books including those that explore LGBTQ themes of sexuality and gender identity by community members with conservative views has not stopped—even in places where school officials have reviewed and made decisions about objectionable books.

in The Independent School District Board of Directors meeting in Granbury In the past month, several people have spoken out during the public comment section calling for more books to be permanently removed from the shelves and calling them “unsuitable” or have the potential to damage students’ brains. Earlier this year, a local committee reviewed the books that had been challenged and voted to remove only a few of the titles.

Teachers, parents and school librarians are fighting back

Frustration with new restrictive laws, persistent complaints by conservative residents, and even alleged harassment has prompted teachers, parents and school librarians to take action.

An English teacher in Oklahoma said She quit her job After the controversy over the display of more than 500 books, and the student’s access to them, in her classroom library.

When teachers at Norman Public Schools were asked to review books to see which might “pose challenges” to the new state law, teacher Summer Boesmeer said she decided to cover the books, calling them “books the state doesn’t want to read” and putting up a QR code.

Boesmeer says it has been on administrative leave, but the district has denied it.

An Oklahoma teacher said she resigned due to a state law requiring teachers to monitor books in classroom libraries

“It is my desire and supreme goal as a teacher, to make my class as inclusive as possible,” she told CNN last month.

The Louisiana Association of School Librarians urges members to stand against censorship if they feel comfortable doing so. Amanda Jones, president of the organization and middle school librarian at Livingston Parish, said members want to inform members of the community about public policies in school libraries and educate them on the work they are doing because there is confusion.

“These fringe groups take advantage of the lack of knowledge from ordinary citizens, and use rhetoric, such as pornography and erotica to describe books, especially books on LGBTQ+ topics and sexual health books written by experts like the American Psychological Association,” Jones told CNN. . “They are not interested in the truth.”

Jones said school librarians can speak publicly at school board meetings and write letters to city and state legislators, but they have to “assess personal safety” because “you can be attacked and have completely fabricated stories about you.”

“We don’t want to use the same hateful rhetoric that these people are using against us,” Jones said. “We want to make sure that we are positive and we promote the library in a positive way.”

she recently lawsuit Require authorities to issue a temporary restraining order against a group they say has been harassing them since doing so A ‘comprehensive’ discourse on censorship At the Livingston Parish Public Library Control Board in July. The case is ongoing.
Adrienne Martin, a Granbury ISD parent and Hood County Democratic chairwoman, has since spoken at the school district meeting.

Meanwhile in Texas, Granberry Parent Adrian Martin, chair of the Hood County Democratic Party, told CNN she recently started board meetings after seeing the same group of individuals who aren’t parents of children attending district schools complaining at the meetings. .

“So, being a taxpayer does not give special privileges to students, staff, and parents. I don’t want random people with no educational background or experience in deciding which books my child can read, what curriculum they learn, and clubs they can join,” Martin said during a board meeting. last management.

“Just getting up at every meeting and ranting and babbling doesn’t give you authority over my child’s education,” she added.

In response to book bans and censorship, a number of groups have launched online tools and initiatives to support students, including the American Library Association. Last week, the Texas Civil Liberties Union launched a resource center to help students, teachers, and advocates learn how to protect their rights.

“It is really important at this time that not only the ACLU, but people across the country advocate for the rights of all students to learn and have access to a wide range of ideas, particularly those related to historically oppressed communities,” Huddleston said.

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