Conroe ISD reviews disputed book policy

Conroe ISD could begin pulling books from classroom and library shelves while the district reviews complaints about materials if the new policy is approved by the school board next month.

At the regular meeting of the CISD Board on Tuesday evening, after an hour-long executive session, the trustees continued discussion with the revised draft policy, which was made publicly available at Meeting board book. Revisions have been made to the policy on didactic materials, which are used to teach “essential knowledge and skills of a subject in the public school curriculum,” according to the board’s book, and library materials, which are materials that are complementary to the state curriculum and are self-selected by students.

The new policy will remove material named in a formal complaint citing inappropriate material as well as the policy from school shelves during book review.

Recommended policies cover material selection criteria, and both policies “prohibit works that contain ‘harmful’ or ‘obscene’ material as defined by the Texas Penal Code,” according to the board of directors’ book, and both specify formal and informal processes for challenging the material.

The Recommended Teaching Materials Policy includes protection from inappropriate material, stating that “Educational materials must not include ‘harmful material’ as defined in Penal Code 43.24(a)(2) or ‘obscene’ material as defined in the Penal Code. 43.21(a)(1).” The proposal also states that the material must comply with the Child Online Protection Act.

“Access to objectionable material may not be restricted during the review process, except when the complainant’s request for reconsideration reasonably leads to the finding that the work is not in compliance with the Protection from Inappropriate Material Policy Section,” according to the proposed Framework of Policies. “In this case, during the reconsideration process, the objected material shall be restricted and made available only to students who have obtained written permission from the parent. In all other cases, the school district will deny access to the child only if requested by the child’s parent.”

The revised policy states that the material will not be removed solely because of the ideas the material expresses. Materials that are subject to formal review will not be reviewed again until they have been evaluated in the local selection process.

“The main criterion for the final decision on contested educational materials is the suitability of the material for its intended educational use,” according to a draft policy in the board book.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Superintendent Curtis Knoll told the board that district administration is still working with the vendor that runs the district library management system to give parents the ability to see what their student is checking in, and control which books they can and can’t pay.

The board is expected to vote on the new policy at its meeting next month on July 19.

At the May meeting, the CISD Board of Trustees Discussion began regarding changes to district policy regarding educational materials and the library. Specifically, the council has talked about changing its policy on what happens to books that parents or community members refer to as “obscene” under Texas Penal Code 43.24.2019 Sale, distribution or display of material harmful to a minor.

School districts across Texas began searching for guidelines at the beginning of this school year regarding educational materials and the library as community members campaigned to remove materials they claim are “obscene” from school shelves. Conroe ISD is not immune to the impact of this campaign.

At a meeting last month, CISD parents brought home a list of 35 books they wanted removed from county shelves, citing state regulations. Titles on the list include “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “A Court of Mist and Fury,” “Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “Gender Queer,” and “Looking for Alaska,” among others.

In the nearby Katy ISD, where the area has already gone through the book removal process, The students took it upon themselves to distribute the titles Such as “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, and “Maus” by Art Spiegelman for interested students.

jamie.swinnerton@chron.com