DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - A state legislative committee is investigating what books are available to students in schools across Texas. School districts this week received a letter from Fort Worth State Representative Matt Krause, a candidate for Texas Attorney General, which included a list of more than 800 book titles.
The letter, sent by Krause in his capacity as chair of the House General Investigating Committee, announces he's launching an inquiry into "Texas school district content."
It asks districts to report back which of the books named on his list they possess, how many copies, on which campuses they're located, and how much the district spent to obtain them. It also asks districts to identify any other books they may have that touch on the topics of human sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, AIDS, sexually explicit images, or material that "might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex".
"You're like creating a hit list of books - like New York Times bestseller books, award winning titles, frankly because you don't maybe agree with or like the subject," said Zeph Capo, president of the Texas AFT teachers union.
The scrutiny being placed on teachers, he says, is driving people away from the profession.
"It's not a question of will we lose teachers. It's how many more will we lose. We have a massive shortage right now of people willing to go into the classroom because of these exact types of issues," he said.
Krause's letter references several districts that have recently removed books from their shelves due to criticism, including Carroll ISD in Southlake.
The school board voted to reprimand a teacher after a parent complained about a book in her classroom.
Pictures show other teachers in the district responded by covering up or closing off their libraries.
"Public libraries, public school libraries are government agencies. They're subject to the First Amendment. The courts have found that not only do we have a right to free speech, we have a right to receive information," said Deborah Caldwell-Stone who runs the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom.
Her office publishes an annual top ten list of the most challenged books at libraries, schools, and universities.
"It's a serious issue because we all have this precious First Amendment right to speak and read and receive information. It's so rare in this world to have those rights and we have to protect them," she said.
There's been a clear uptick, she says, this year, and especially last month.
"We saw a 60% increase in challenges in the month of September year to year from the previous year, and it's deeply concerning to us," she said.
Caldwell-Stone says there's been a long trend of challenges to books with LGBTQ+ characters or experiences. More recently, she says, there's been a jump in complaints about books that discussing race.
"The focus has been those items that are lumped under rubric of critical race theory but as we're finding they're really just books dealing with the experiences of black persons or history of slavery or racism in the United States," she said.
Attempts to contact Rep. Krause at his Capitol office, district office, or through his campaign to speak to him about his inquiry were unsuccessful.
A fellow Republican state representative from Tarrant County who sits on the committee,Stephanie Klick, also did not respond to an e-mail on the issue.
Democratic State Representative Victoria Neave, the committee's vice chair, said Krause's letter came as a surprise to her.
"It creates a chilling effect. It seeks to limit what students are learning," she said.
The committee, she points out, isn't expected to meet again to take any action until 2023, when Rep. Krause hopes to taking office as the state's next attorney general, so it's unclear what the inquiry's objective is.
She considers it little more than a political show at the expense of schools.
"Their time should be focused on educating our children, not responding to and wasting taxpayer money responding to a letter that is politically motivated for somebody's personal gain."
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