Texas House to launch investigation into school library books

The chairman of a Texas state House committee tasked with conducting investigations is launching a probe into books that school librarians keep on their shelves in the wake of a measure the legislature passed earlier this year to bar teaching of critical race theory in public schools.

In a letter to the Texas Education Agency and unnamed school superintendents, state Rep. Matt Krause (R) asked school leaders to identify the number of copies of hundreds of specific books they have sitting on library shelves, and how much money the districts paid to purchase those books.

Krause cited five Texas school districts that have recently removed some books from their libraries or classrooms after objections from parents and students. Krause asked the districts to provide information about books that deal with sexuality, sexually transmitted disease, AIDS and HIV and “material that might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.”

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The specific books Krause is looking for, attached in a 16-page list first reported by The Texas Tribune, date back to the 1960s. Many deal with abortion, teen pregnancy, sex education or the life experience of young LGBT people. Others deal with the Black Lives Matter movement or the concepts of anti-racism.

Also on the list are some more popular works, including:

— "The Confessions of Nat Turner," a 1967 novel by William Styron written as a first-person narrative of an 1831 slave revolt in Virginia.

— "The Cider House Rules," John Irving’s 1985 novel about a protagonist whose childhood mentor is an obstetrician who performs abortions.

— "V for Vendetta," the 1982 graphic novel by Alan Moore about a dystopian, post-apocalyptic England ruled by a fascist regime, which became a hit movie in 2005.

— "The Handmaid’s Tale," another dystopian novel written by Margaret Atwood about a post-revolution United States in which women are subjected by a ruling class of men. Krause specifically asks about a graphic novel form of the book.

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— "We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy" and "Between the World and Me," an essay collection and memoir by author and essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates.

The letter went to school districts without a vote from the full committee on investigations. State Rep. Victoria Neave (D), the vice chair of the committee, called the letter “politically motivated.”

In a statement, the Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA) called the letter a “political overreach” and a “witch hunt.”

“This is an obvious attack on diversity and an attempt to score political points at the expense of our children’s education,” TSTA President Ovidia Molina said. “What will Rep. Krause propose next? Burning books he and a handful of parents find objectionable?”

The investigative committee typically spends its time probing the conduct of legislators and state officials accused of wrongdoing. Krause, in his first term heading the committee, is a member of Texas’s version of the Freedom Caucus.

Krause’s investigation comes after Texas Gov. Greg AbbottGreg AbbottHillicon Valley —TSA to strengthen rail sector cybersecurity When politics trump workers' health, we know who gets burned Judge blocks Texas social media censorship law MORE (R) signed legislation in June barring schools from teaching what Texas Republicans call critical race theory. The bill does not use the term, which Texas schools did not teach anyway, but it mandated the approach the state Board of Education should take to teaching history. 

Krause is one of three Republicans who has announced a challenge to Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), who has been under indictment for allegedly using his office to aid a political donor for years.