Battle over school library books continues

The+removal+of+library+books+due+to+inappropriate+material+has+been+a+nationwide+trend%2C+and+it+has+landed+in+FISD.+The+FISD+Board+of+Trustees+have+voted+on+the+removal+of+books%2C+and+Frisco+citizens%2C+such+as+State+Representative+Jared+Patterson%2C+have+challenged+books+in+schools.+

Roy Nitzan

The removal of library books due to inappropriate material has been a nationwide trend, and it has landed in FISD. The FISD Board of Trustees have voted on the removal of books, and Frisco citizens, such as State Representative Jared Patterson, have challenged books in schools.

By Caroline Caruso, Liberty High School - TX

Still on the shelves of some Frisco ISD high school libraries, “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” and “Glass Castle.”

Gone are “The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” “Check Please, #Hockey!,” “Glass,” “Chicken Girl,” and “The Exact Opposite of Okay.

This is the result of one of the most recent Frisco ISD Board of Trustees meetings which voted on seven books that reached a Level III Appeal, the highest level, by State Representative Jared Patterson (R – Denton County).

The meeting is the latest step in an ongoing book battle over what should or shouldn’t be in school libraries.

It’s part of a national trend that has made its way to Frisco ISD. On Tuesday, the Frisco ISD Board of Trustees will consider and act upon a motion to approve the selection of parents to the Book Reconsideration Committee pool.

We started to see it in the news, and when we saw some of the books that were being reported in the news, we started to look in our own libraries to see if they were there,”

— FISD Superintendent Dr. Mike Waldrip

“We started to see it in the news, and when we saw some of the books that were being reported in the news, we started to look in our own libraries to see if they were there,” Superintendent Dr. Mike Waldrip said. “Initially, some of the ones that they were reporting we didn’t have in our libraries. But then as more and more things came forward, we were able to see that, yes, some of those books were in our libraries.”

Though the district had already begun to act, others in the community began taking matters into their own hands.

Among those is Patterson, a Frisco resident, who has challenged several books in local area districts this school year, including 32 titles in Frisco ISD alone.

“I followed up with all the school districts that overlap my House district and sent them letters kind of inquiring really about one book in particular, and then it just kind of went from there,” he said. “They were shocked that [the book] was in the public schools, and they pulled it that day. There’s been several books that I’ve highlighted in an informal way that have been pulled as well. Over half the books that have been pulled have been pulled either formally, or informally, from us.”

As the library debate heated up, Patterson began sharing his views on social media.

In the eyes of Waldrip, Patterson’s posts on social media presented a communication buffer that could only be dissolved by talking face-to-face.

I think more than anything, I wanted Representative Patterson to understand that we want what he wants,”

— FISD Superintendent Dr. Mike Waldrip

“Social media is an awful place to try to communicate with someone, and that’s kind of what was going on [before we met],” Waldrip said. “I felt like it was time for us to sit down and have a conversation. I think more than anything, I wanted Representative Patterson to understand that we want what he wants. We don’t want inappropriate material in front of students, but we also don’t want to just randomly go in and censor the books that are in our library. We want to have an objective standard we use to evaluate the reading material that’s in front of our students.”

Patterson agrees with the district’s need for an objective reviewal method, stating the content in school libraries should be in the best interest of parents, with additional oversight from the district to ensure guidelines are carried out.

“Nothing should get in the way of the parent’s relationship with their student, and ultimately the parents are in charge of their education,” he said. “But the school district should really be partners with the parents in making sure that they are doing what’s best for that child’s success in school. We want to just protect kids, protect the kid’s mental health and protect their brain development from seeing this obscene content.”

It’s an issue parents such as Jodi Webber agree with.

We want to just protect kids, protect the kid’s mental health and protect their brain development from seeing this obscene content,”

— State Representative Jared Patterson

“When there is explicit content in books relating to pornography or something of that nature, students should not have access to that while on school campuses,” Webber said. “Regardless of whether they are coming in as freshmen in high school or are about to graduate, there needs to be a guideline to what is allowed in school libraries. There’s a difference between a school library and a public library.”

But students such as senior Catherine Boss argue that having any sort of guideline at all is inherently a form of censorship against open inquiry and intellectual freedom.

“I don’t think we should limit any media that we should be presenting to students, especially high schoolers, based on personal opinions,” Boss said. “What some people consider obscene is everyday life for other people. If you’re offended by it, you don’t have to read it. I think we should have access to all books, and banning knowledge is a very slippery slope.”

Although the removal of books from school libraries may seem extreme to some people, for Patterson, it’s simply a matter of determining what is appropriate in a public school library.

I think we should have access to all books, and banning knowledge is a very slippery slope,”

— senior Catherine Boss

“When you’re talking about tax dollars, when you’re talking about accessibility for children, when you’re talking about a lack of parental involvement, all of those things combined is why we’re really forcing this issue in the school library as opposed to in a public library,” Patterson said. “I just think that there are appropriate things and there are inappropriate things. We’re not trying to ban books. We’re just trying to make sure that we maintain appropriate materials in our public schools.”

To help determine whether a book will be placed in a Frisco ISD library, the district analyzed its policies and made some adjustments.

“We had to think, ‘what is it really about and is it really going to serve our staff and students?’” FISD Director of Library Services Amanda Butler said. “So to purchase a library book [now] you have to have at least one professional review with an age band on it. We also need a secondary review, which can be more informal, like Common Sense Media or frequent book reviewers like Even Blogs. Anything that is going to give the librarian who’s acquiring the material a more well-rounded understanding of the totality of the book.”

The protocol adjustment is not free of difficulties, however.

“It’s really broad when you think about it because we’re serving students who are adults, but we’re also serving five-year-olds,” Butler said. “We have things written in our policy about manga and we need things written in our policy about Peppa Pig. We’re serving this entire student population, and we’re doing that in a way that needs to be clear to our community.”

For Patterson, the update to district policy is a welcome step.

We’re serving this entire student population, and we’re doing that in a way that needs to be clear to our community,”

— FISD Director of Library Services Amanda Butler

“I applauded the new policies when they happened,” Patterson said. “We were excited. We’ve been pushing for this for months and months and I think the policy is a great first step, but we need a little bit more proactiveness on the district’s level. [There’s a difference between] saying we’re going to proactively go after these versus just relying on book challenges for third parties.”

The battle over books in school libraries may not be over, but Waldrip is proud of the Frisco ISD employees that found themselves in the literary crosshairs.

“Our librarians have done a wonderful job with this, and they’ve caught a lot of negative press from it,” Waldrip said. “I think there’s been a lot of negative things associated with librarians and libraries, and nothing could be further from the truth. Our librarians are some of the most beloved people in the district. These are people that very much want what’s best for students, just like everyone else. I’m very proud of them for what they’ve done and how they handled this.”

Infographic credit: Athena Tseng

This story was originally published on Wingspan on January 13, 2023.