Legislator’s probe into TISD libraries causing discomfort

An attempt to devise strategies for reviewing questionable books in Tyler school libraries stretched into a new year without any indication when a plan will become public.

Administrators have removed an unspecified number of books for review which may or may not have been on a list of books compiled by state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, said Yolonda Moore, the public information officer for Tyler Independent School District.

Moore provided the information in response to an open records request filed by The Tyler Loop.

Krause, who chairs the Texas House Committee on General Investigations, compiled a list of about 850 books alleged to contain material that might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex. 

The list has been sent to Texas school districts to determine if any of the books are available in their libraries.

Some Tyler parents and others, however, contend the libraries contain books on pornography, pedophilia, and other material inappropriate for children. They have spoken out during the past two school board meetings, urging the board to allow a special independent committee to review the school’s book inventory.

Christin Bentley, a TISD parent and president of the East Texas Freedom Coalition, told trustees in November she was upset to find the books “All Boys Aren’t Blue” and “Lawn Boy” at Tyler Legacy High School.

She said she loves literature, but she believes the purpose of these books is to sexually groom children.

“If this book was made into a movie,” she said referring to “Lawn Boy,” “it would be pornographic.”

Prior to a Nov. 15 meeting, Superintendent Dr. Marty Crawford read a prepared statement assuring audience members that the board and school administrators viewed the issue as “crucial.”

“Over the past month, district administration has reached out to Texas Education Agency officials, conversed with district principals on the issue at hand, and is devising strategies to review, and if determined, redirect or cease improper resources deemed as developmentally, cognitively or socially inappropriate,” he said.

After more speakers told the board at the December meeting they wanted more transparency about those efforts, Crawford again assured the audience administrators were still working on the issue.

“We’ve done our job. We’re working on it right now. Okay?” he said. “So, the hyperbole, the demagoguery that’s coming out about this issue … we need to calm the waters a little bit so we can do our job.”

TISD spokesperson Jennifer Hines referred a Tyler Loop reporter to Crawford’s November statement when questioned last week about the current state of the review. 

“That’s what we’re sharing at this time,” she said.

The Tyler Loop has filed requests under the Texas Public Information Act, contending citizens need more information.

“The Tyler Loop wants citizens to become knowledgeable about this process as it unfolds,” executive director Jane Neal said. “We want readers to know what’s at stake, who key players are and how they can take effective action if they so choose.”

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Vanessa E. Curry is a journalist with nearly 35 years of experience as a writer, editor and instructor. She earned a B.S. degree in Mass Communication from Illinois State University and a MSIS degree from The University of Texas at Tyler with emphasis on journalism, political science and criminal justice. She has worked newspaper in Marlin, Henderson, Tyler and Jacksonville, Texas as well as in Columbia Tennessee. Vanessa also was a journalism instructor at the UT-Tyler and Tennessee Tech University. Her writing has been recognized by the State Bar of Texas, Texas Associated Press Managing Editors, Dallas Press Club, and Tennessee Press Association. She currently is working on publishing two books: "Lies and Consequences: The Trials of Kerry Max Cook," and "A Gold Medal Man, A biography of Kenneth L. "Tug" Wilson.