A parent is reportedly fighting to ban a children’s biography of Michelle Obama from a Texas school district, claiming that the story of the former first lady’s life is somehow perpetuating “reverse racism” against white people.
The push comes as conservative parents around the country fight to ban books from schools that contain content about race or LGBTQ identities from school libraries.
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The parent, who was not named in the NBC News report that broke the story, was part of a broader movement of parents in the Katy Independent School District (located in a Houston suburb) who have been fighting to ban books that contain “vulgar” content, many of which feature LGBTQ characters.
At the same November school board meeting where the parent suggested banning the Michelle Obama book, another argued that books about LGBTQ people are “sexualizing our precious children” and leading them to question their identities when they wouldn’t otherwise do so.
The parent also accused the school libraries of being “filled with pornography.”
While some of the books the parents have questioned do have scenes that involve sex, those against banning the books say they are far from pornography.
“I think it’s troubling when they can’t distinguish between porn — which is not meant for education — and a book like mine that’s trying to educate teenagers and tell them, ‘It’s OK to have these desires; here’s how to act on them consensually and safely,’” said L.C. Rosen, author of Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts), a book about a gay teenager and his sex life that has been under attack by Katy parents and successfully banned from the district’s libraries.
In response to parents, the school has investigated at least 30 books and has so far banned nine for students of any age.
And it’s not just happening in Katy. Books are being banned all over Texas. NBC News found that of 100 school districts in the regions encompassing Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, there were 75 formal requests to ban books during the first four months of the school year, compared to one total challenge during the same time period last year.
A public library in Llano County, Texas recently announced it would close for three days and take down online access as librarians were forced to hunt through the children’s books for “objectionable content.”
In October, Texas Rep. Matt Krause (R-TX) sent a letter to the Texas Education Agency that included a list of 850 books, demanding schools share how many copies of each book they have and how much money they spent to obtain the books.
Most of the books were about LGBTQ topics or racism.
And in November, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) asked schools to check whether they’re supplying pornography to children in an official letter sent to the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB).
In the letter, Abbott gives no reason to believe that grade schools are giving students access to “pornographic images” other than a vague reference to “a growing number of parents of Texas students” who are “increasingly alarmed.”
What’s more, the Texas Association of School Boards said they were “confused” about the letter since they have “no regulatory authority over school districts” and don’t set any standards for library books.
Abbott – who is up for reelection this year – also recently unveiled a “Parental Bill of Rights” that would amend the Texas constitution to make parents “the primary decision makers in all matters involving their children,” according to a press release.
The Parental Bill of Rights would also take aggressive action against any teachers that provide “pornographic materials,” which is becoming increasingly synonymous with LGBTQ content, to students.
Similar battles are being waged in states across the country.
But librarians are fighting back.
“There have always been efforts to censor books, but what we’re seeing right now is frankly unprecedented,” retired school librarian Carolyn Foote told NBC News.
Foote is part of a group of Texas librarians running a social media campaign against book banning.
“A library is a place of voluntary inquiry,” Foote continued. “That means when a student walks in, they’re not forced to check out a book that they or their parents find objectionable. But they also don’t have authority to say what books should or shouldn’t be available to other students.”