Conroe ISD reviews policy on disputed books

Conroe ISD could begin pulling books off of classroom and library shelves while the district reviews complaints about the materials if the school board approves the new policy next month.

At the CISD board’s regular meeting Tuesday night, after an hour-long executive session, the trustees continued the discussion with a draft of the revised policy, which was made available to the public in the meeting board book. Revisions were made to policy regarding instructional materials, which are used to teach the “essential knowledge and skills of a subject in the public school curriculum,” according to the board book, and to library materials, which are materials that supplement the state curriculum and are self-selected by students.

The new policy would remove materials that were named in a formal complaint citing the inappropriate materials in addition to the policy from school shelves while the book was under review.

The recommended policies cover criteria for selecting materials, and both policies “prohibit works that contain “harmful material” or “obscene” material as defined by the Texas Penal Code,” according to the board book, and both outline formal and informal processes to challenge the material.

The recommended instructional materials policy includes protection from inappropriate material, stating “Instructional materials shall not include “harmful material” as defined by Penal Code 43.24(a)(2) or “obscene” material as defined by Penal Code 43.21(a)(1 ).” The proposal also states that materials must comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act.

“Access to a challenged material shall not be restricted during the reconsideration process, except when the complainant’s request for reconsideration could reasonably result in a finding that the work fails to comply with the section of this policy protection from Inappropriate Material,” according to the proposed policies. “In this case, during the reconsideration process, the challenged material shall be restricted and available only to students with written parent permission. In all other cases, the district will deny access to a child only if requested by the child’s parent.”

The revised policy states that materials won’t be removed only because of the ideas the material expresses. Materials that go through a formal review won’t be reviewed again until it is evaluated in the local selection process.

“The major criterion for the final decision on challenged instructional materials is the appropriateness of the material for its intended educational use,” according to the policy draft in the board book.

At the Tuesday meeting, Superintendent Curtis Null told the board that the district administration is still working with the vendor that runs the district library management system to give parents the ability to see what their student is checking out, and control what books they can and cannot check out.

The board is expected to vote on the new policy at its scheduled meeting next month on July 19.

At its May meeting, the CISD board of trustees began a discussion regarding changes to the district policy regarding instructional and library materials. Specifically, the board talked about changing its policy about what happens to books that parents or district community members cite as “obscene” under the Texas Penal Code 43.24. Sale, Distribution, or Display of Harmful Material to Minor.

School districts across Texas began looking for guidance at the beginning of this school year regarding instructional and library materials as community members campaigned to remove materials they claim are “obscene” from school shelves. Conroe ISD is not immune to the impact of this campaign.

At last month’s meeting, CISD parents brought a list of 35 books they want to be removed from district shelves, citing state regulations. Titles on the list include “The Handmaid’s Tale”, “A Court of Mist and Fury”, “Perks of Being a Wallflower”, “Gender Queer”, and “Looking for Alaska”, among others.

In nearby Katy ISD, where the district has already gone through the process of removing books, students took it upon themselves to distribute titles like “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, and “Maus” by Art Spiegelman to interested students.

jamie.swinnerton@chron.com