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Like many residents, a retired schoolteacher is questioning a pastors’ group push demanding Rio Grande Valley school districts “summarily” remove books deemed “inappropriate” from their library shelves.

On Tuesday, Joyce Hamilton, a retired reading teacher, warned against the group turning to “coercion” to pressure school boards to “censor” more than 600 books on its list.

Last week, Pastor Luis Cabrera, national director of Latino Faith with the organization Remnant Alliance, said the group, under a new law, could file lawsuits against school districts refusing to remove books from a list of more than 600 titles.

“As a retired educator, specifically a reading teacher, I am very concerned about attempts to censor books, especially when there is an atmosphere of coercion around such attempts,” she said in a statement.

“I sincerely hope any school board or administration receiving (the) list of hundreds of books from a community entity wishing to remove all books in that list will follow state law when considering such requests,” she said.

In her statement, Hamilton referred to Texas House Bill 900, passed last year, which “prohibits the acquisition of harmful material; prohibits the possession, acquisition and purchasing of books rated sexually explicit material; permits the exclusion from a school library of materials that are pervasively vulgar or educationally unsuitable; and recognizes that obscene content is not protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

“It is my understanding that Texas HB 900 requires that any book considered for removal from a school by request of a parent or school official must be reviewed carefully, in its entirety, and removal should be decided based on required procedures and specifications,” she stated. “Removal should not be based on one phrase or selected words, for example.”

Last week, Cabrera requested the Harlingen school district remove any books on the list.

“I understand that the Harlingen school district has a team of professional educators, counselors and librarians trained in the procedures required by state law, and by the intent of this law,” Hamilton said. “I trust them to make informed choices about which books are appropriate for the developmental levels of students, from primary through high school levels, and to carefully review a book individually following the guidelines, if asked.”

“To hand a list — the origin of which we ought to be questioning — of over 660 books to a school district, demanding that they all be removed from the shelves summarily, without careful and thoughtful review, is at the very least highly inappropriate, in my opinion,” she said.

On Facebook, Cabrera posted Harlingen school district officials had “already started the process of removing inappropriate books from the libraries of our schools.”

But Marcy Martinez, the district’s spokeswoman, said officials were carefully reviewing any books on the list.

“Once we take the proper steps and follow all of the procedures when concerns over books are submitted, we will have a better idea of what action will be taken,” Martinez said in a statement. “We appreciate the pastor’s insight, and have met with him and discussed his concerns. There are systems and processes in place that must be thoroughly explored, and we plan to start those steps this summer.”

Questions surround the origin of the list of more than 600 books the pastors’ group is requesting school districts remove from their libraries.

On Tuesday, Cabrera’s office described the list as “generic.”

“It’s a generic list that’s used,” the pastor’s office stated. “Some districts have some books, other districts have others. This is the smallest list. It doesn’t cover all the inappropriate books.”

Cabrera also said on social media that he has met with Brownsville school district officials and his efforts to remove books include districts in Los Fresnos, McAllen, Mission, San Benito, Pharr, Mercedes, Weslaco and Edinburg.

On Tuesday, Hamilton pointed to the Texas Freedom to Read Project’s letter to Texas superintendents and school board members underscoring school districts’ responsibility to uphold new state library standards developed by the Texas State Library and Archive Commission and adopted by the Texas Board of Education as mandated by House Bill 900.

”As parents, we recognize that not all books are appropriate for all readers of all ages, and we know that students need to see themselves and the difficult experiences they may encounter in literature and read about topics that will empower them to navigate the world around them,” the letter states, noting its authors include Authors Against Book Bans, the Children’s Defense Fund of Texas and Students Engaged in Advancing Texas.

“The political groups calling for book removals often cite the new library standards adopted in December, which they claim require districts to remove books that they — not the law — define as pervasively vulgar or educationally unsuitable,” the letter states.

The letter refers to a 1982 Supreme Court case known as Island Trees School District v. Pico, in which the court ordered a school district return several books to the library shelves while prohibiting districts from removing books based on ideology.

“HB 900 builds off of that decision — whereas the court in Pico said districts may remove books that are educationally unsuitable or pervasively vulgar, the new standards, as mandated by HB 900, say that districts must remove such books,” the letter states. “But neither that case nor HB 900 define those terms, and political groups have taken advantage of that ambiguity to push for over-broad interpretations of both phrases, often resulting in devastating effects for school districts.”

Under House Bill 900, the law requires district’s carefully review books considered for removal, the letter states.

“To be clear, the law does not require removal of books without careful consideration and thoughtful deliberation,” it states. “In fact, determining if a book is ‘pervasively vulgar’ requires an awareness of the text as a whole, and understanding whether or not it is ‘educationally suitable’ depends on knowing its possible purpose and uses in an educational setting.”

In the past, some school districts’ “over-broad interpretations of vague legal terms” have led them to rush the review process, mistakenly removing books such as “Brave New World” and Anne Frank’s diary, the letter states.

“Specifically, districts that have made such changes have faced legal challenges for violating students’ rights, along with increased teacher turnover and dissatisfaction,” the letter states. “Even worse, these districts have reduced opportunities for student learning, restricting books that regularly appear on Advanced Placement literature exams and removing choice books that can boost student achievement. The research is clear — having the freedom to read increases academic and behavioral outcomes for students, and restrictions to that freedom should not be undertaken lightly.”


Pastors’ group demands Valley schools remove ‘inappropriate’ books