By Hudson Crozier
The scoop: For months, residents in the Denton Independent School District in Texas have urged the school board to review dozens of books that they say are inappropriate for school libraries. Documents obtained by Upward News show how the board’s review committee continually justifies the controversial content, leading to calls for change ahead of an upcoming school board election.
Why it matters: The board’s actions reflect a nationwide trend of schools defying challenges to books with mature content, leading Republicans in Texas and other states to push for tighter restrictions. The issue is part of a larger debate over parental rights in education that has shaped local elections across the country.
Novels they kept on high school shelves: The Haters depicts sexual intercourse, erections, “fingering,” oral sex, masturbation, and orgasms. Looking for Alaska discusses pornography, drug use, and groping and contains a detailed oral sex scene. Burned describes detailed “sex dreams,” fondling, and suicide. These books are all marketed as “coming-of-age” stories, with the latter two involving high-school-age characters.
The reasoning: Committee members, whom the board independently appoints when a book gets challenged, voted to keep all three books. Their reviews cite “literary value,” claim that “the ending … is worth the journey,” or accuse the book challenger of having a “censorship” mindset. “The oral sex scene was not written in a way to induce arousal, rather it was more clinical in nature,” a reviewer wrote regarding Looking for Alaska. In each case, the committee also declined the option of merely requiring parental consent to check out the book.
The political divide: In the weeks leading up to Denton’s May 6 school board election, residents have continued to express their concerns about library book policy at meetings. Two conservative moms are now running for school board, in part to make the system more favorable to parents who challenge books. Other candidates seek to preserve the existing policy, with one saying parents just want to “spread misinformation and cause mistrust.”