ACLU wants North Texas school district to apologize for removing over 100 library books

The Granbury ISD administration building in on Nov. 15, 2021. (Shelby Tauber For The Texas Tribune, Shelby Tauber For The Texas Tribune)

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas is calling on the Granbury Independent School District to apologize for the removal of more than 100 books — most of which center on LGBTQ topics or discussions of race and identity — from library shelves amid rising partisanship on the district’s school board and political pressure from Republican lawmakers.

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Granbury ISD came under fire earlier this year for removing 131 titles from their bookshelves as GOP-led challenges to students’ access to books about sexual orientation and racial identity drive local campaigns. As of Friday, the district had returned 103 of them after determining they were suitable, according to a district press release.

Kate Huddleston, an attorney for the ACLU, said the school district should apologize for the removals and release a statement explicitly affirming its commitment to LGBTQ and racial inclusivity as well as to teaching the history of racism and racial injustice. She said removing the books in the first place will have a chilling effect and could discourage children of color and LGBTQ youth in the district from seeking out those titles even when they’re available again.

“Granbury ISD’s mass book removals have already harmed students in the district, both by directly suppressing speech and access to ideas and by sending the message to Black, brown, and LGBTQ+ students that Granbury ISD rejects their history and belonging in the community,” the ACLU said in a letter sent on Monday to the school district that was also signed by other civil rights organizations in the state.

Huddleston stopped short of saying the organization would file a lawsuit against Granbury ISD if the removed books weren’t returned to the district’s libraries.

“All options are on the table,” she said in an interview with The Texas Tribune.

Granbury ISD officials did not respond Monday to a request for comment on the ACLU’s letter.

Though they’ve returned most books to the district’s libraries, Granbury ISD leaders said in the press release that they decided to remove one book permanently “because of sexually explicit content” but did not specify what the title was. Two others were either lost or never in the district’s book catalog, they said. A committee will complete its review of the 25 books remaining next month, the district said.

About 94 of the books initially removed, or 73% of them, feature LGBTQ characters or themes, according to a ProPublica and Tribune analysis of the popular book review site Goodreads.

In 2013, the ACLU was successful in getting a book title back onto shelves in a Utah school library. The organization settled a lawsuit with the district, which agreed to restock a book about two mothers and their adopted children. The title had been taken off shelves because some parents complained it "normalized a lifestyle we don’t agree with."

In October, Texas Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, who was then running for attorney general, released a list of 850 books that he said should be investigated. The majority of the titles dealt with LGBTQ themes, while some just included LGBTQ characters, according to an analysis by BookRiot. Some of the books removed by Granbury ISD also appeared on Krause’s list.

Transgender children and their families have recently been targeted in recent Republican political campaigns. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — seven days before a GOP primary election in which he’s being accused of not being conservative enough — ordered state child welfare officials to launch child abuse investigations into reports of transgender kids receiving gender-affirming care, leading many children to express terror over how they might be limited from receiving care in the future.

Multiple studies have found that LGBTQ youth are at higher risk of suicide compared to their heterosexual peers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 34% of queer-identifying students nationally were bullied at school and 42% considered suicide. Advocates and several studies show that children are more likely to die by suicide when facing family rejection or bullying.

Courtney Gore, a newly-elected Granbury school board member, had applauded the book removals but said the district is not taking aim at LGBTQ students or community members.

“All students at GISD are loved and cared for by the amazing staff and administration,” she said. “With that, public schools are not the place for young people to express themselves sexually.”

Nearly 1,000 people had signed an online petition launched by Granbury students protesting the district’s removal of the books.

“I don’t think that little children should be shocked or disgusted by our identities,” a queer senior at a Granbury High School school board meeting said earlier this year, warning that removing the books would send a dangerous message. “It’s disgusting that, even in 2022, we still have to have these discussions about censorship.”

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