Banning, criminalizing, maybe even burning books is back for public schools in Texas, Virginia, elsewhere

Greg Abbott
(Image credit: Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Virginia's Spotsylvania County School Board voted 6-0 earlier this week to order public school libraries to remove and catalog all "sexually explicit" books from their libraries, after a parent at one high school complained about "LGBTQIA" fiction prominently displayed in the school's digital library app, The Free Lance-Star reports.

Two of the board members wanted to go farther, the Free Lance-Star reports. "I think we should throw those books in a fire," said one member, Rabih Abuismail. He said one young adult book about homeless teenagers trying to escape troubled pasts, 33 Snowfish by Adam Rapp, proved public schools "would rather have our kids reading gay pornography than about Christ." Fellow board member Kirk Twigg said he'd like to "see the books before we burn them so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff."

"It's easy to caricature a particular movement with some of its most extreme promoters," Aaron Blake writes at The Washington Post, but the Virginia case isn't unique, and advocates say the coordinated effort to cancel certain types of books is unusually strident. "Particularly when taken in concert with the legislative attempts to control school curricula, this feels like a more overarching attempt to purge schools of materials that people disagree with," the National Coalition Against Censorship's Nora Pelizzari told the Post.

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Many of the books being challenged and removed from shelves (sometimes temporarily) — in Kansas, Pennsylvania, and especially Texas — have to do with racism. Texas state Rep. Michael Krause (R) launched a review last month targeting books that "might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress" due to their "race or sex."

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Wednesday instructed the Texas Education Agency to investigate potential crimes related to "the availability of pornography" in public schools and refer any such instances "for prosecution to the fullest extent of the law." The TEA, The Texas Tribune notes, "does not employ law enforcement officers." Two days earlier, Abbott had asked the TEA and other state agencies to develop statewide standards preventing "obscene content in Texas public schools."

Pornography is one thing, but "there is clearly an audience in the conservative movement for more broadly excluding subjects involving the history of racism and how it might impact modern life," Blake concludes. And the big question is "how wide a net is cast."

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