3 things to know about NEISD book review

District officials say review is not politically motivated, but list focuses on topics of race, sexuality

NEISD is reviewing more than 400 books for appropriateness. (Pexels, KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – North East ISD has attracted national attention for an extensive book review list that largely focuses on titles having to do with LGBTQ and race.

Despite using a list of books provided by Republican State Rep. Matt Krause “as a jumping off point,” district officials have maintained that the book review is not politically motivated and that they expect that the “vast majority” of the books will not be pulled from school libraries.

More than 100 books have already been approved by district librarians, district officials said, while the San Antonio Express-News has reported that at least 75 books have been flagged for removal or relocation into a more age-appropriate section.

Here’s what you need to know about the book review:

1. The review’s origins

Though the review first began making waves in December, NEISD Superintendent Sean Maika said he first began considering a book review in the spring, when he said he was made aware of a book that was “wholly inappropriate due to its depiction of race.”

That book, according to the Express-News, was “The Story of Little Black Sambo,” a book that included racist illustrations and depictions of Black people.

“I began to wonder how many other books may need to be double checked,” Maika wrote in an open letter to parents. “With nearly 800,000 books across our District, I knew this would not be an easy task.”

When Krause sent inquiries to school districts across Texas about a list of nearly 850 books, primarily dealing with race and sexuality, Maika said the district determined that 414 of those titles were available in school libraries.

“Since we were already determining how best to review our library books, we used that list as a jumping off point,” Maika said.

2. The process

Previously, the district has relied on book publishers to determine the age-appropriateness of each title.

“But, we have realized through this process that may not always be accurate,” Maika wrote.

For this review, district officials are relying on the librarians at the 68 campuses that have those books available to review.

“It is up to the librarians,” said Aubrey Chancellor, the district’s executive director of communications. “They have so much expertise and knowledge and education specific for that field. We trust they will be able to determine the right decision.”

Maika said that in the future, NEISD will “form a book review committee” to determine the appropriateness of each book moving forward.

3. The reaction

The review has been met with skepticism from some teachers, authors and parents.

As news of the review began to spread, a petition opposing it has garnered more than 3,000 signatures.

In a statement published through the Texas State Teachers Association, North East Educators Association President Adonis Schurmann questioned the process.

“The North East Educators Association doesn’t want our students exposed to obscene or age-inappropriate material,” she said. “But we oppose censorship, including the politically motivated efforts at censorship being driven by some state officials on the eve of an election year.”

“The North East Educators Association is seeking assurances from district administrators that no book is judged obscene or vulgar simply because it deals with a subject, such as race relations or LGBTQ issues, which make some parents or politicians uncomfortable,” Schurmann continued. “That would be an abuse of the educational process and a disservice to our students.”

Schurmann also said the association is asking for a panel of educators and parents to make determinations on any books up for review. She also expressed support for the current district policy that allows parents to object to books they deem inappropriate.

Anel Flores, a San Antonio author and former teacher, also expressed concerns over the review, though her book, titled “Empanada, A Lesbiana Story in Probaditas” is not on NEISD’s list and is available in some high school and middle school libraries in San Antonio.

“It’s important that we have brown and black and queer and marginalized, silenced voices in our literature so children can feel like they belong somewhere,” Flores said.

View a full list of the books below:

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About the Author:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.