AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Canyon Independent School District officials published letters on Tuesday, one addressed to staff and parents in the district and the other to Texas House District 106 Representative Jared Patterson of the Dallas area, both refusing and responding to a proposed pledge from the lawmaker surrounding school library content.

According to the April letter from Canyon ISD to Patterson, he sent a request in early March for Canyon ISD to sign on to what the district described as “a non-binding pledge leaving many important terms undefined.”

The pledge, as quoted in Canyon ISD’s May 9 letter to staff and parents, states:

“From this date forward, (district name) pledges to neither knowingly partner with, purchase from, or associate with in any way a vendor who has supplied child pornography to public schools. (district name) also pledges to take all necessary steps to root out and remove explicit and obscene books, as such materials have no place in school district libraries.”

Proposed pledge from Rep. Jared Patterson

While Canyon ISD Superintendent Darryl Flusche noted in the letter that he is “certain” that Patterson and the district have similar goals of providing a safe learning environment for every student, the district refused to sign on to the pledge. As Flusche said, those in the district “do not feel comfortable that a non-binding pledge leaving many important terms undefined and subject to a wide variety of interpretations” would advance the efforts to provide a safe environment for students.

“We are also concerned that the subjectivity of some of the key terms used in the letter could unintentionally create legal liability depending on future definitions,” Flusche noted.

The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) commented similarly to Flusche in 2021 on content available in school libraries. Once a resource has been made available in a school library, said the TASB, its removal implicates students’ First Amendment rights.

As his letter to Patterson continued, Flusche said that Canyon ISD had taken steps to establish an Instructional Resources Committee, composed of parents, educators, and professional staff, to review instructional materials that have been challenged. Further, at the time, the district was reviewing the model policy published by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) regarding appropriate steps for review and removal of titles from school library shelves.

In the wake of the Patterson request and its response letter, Canyon ISD posted a letter to staff and parents on May 9 that aimed to detail the district’s full position.

“Regarding the pledge, it is not Canyon ISD’s practice to sign non-binding pledges drafted by third parties. The language in the pledge is undefined, particularly the portion referencing “obscene books”. Every individual could have a differing opinion on what is “obscene”. Complying with the pledge apparently expects school districts to evaluate every title ever sold by a vendor to public schools prior to choosing to purchase from that vendor.”

Canyon ISD Superintendent Darryl Flusche to parents and staff, May 9

The letter also offered a few notes on the district’s history and policy regarding school library content. According to the letter:

  • Canyon ISD is in agreement that inappropriate materials should not be available in our schools nor in our libraries.
  • Through the years, the district has adhered to board policy for removal of library materials due to protections by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court decision in 1982, Board of Education v. Pico, established that the district cannot arbitrarily remove books from the library because it disagrees with the subject matter.
  • The CISD Board of Trustees will be considering the new model policy offered by the Texas Education Agency in April. The suggested policy offered districts a draft process to remove library books that do not meet acceptable standards.
  • Additionally, Canyon ISD has enhanced the process for purchasing library books to engage parents and the community to review lists of book titles for a time period prior to their purchase; and to submit a form to omit a title prior to an order being placed.
  • Each parent can restrict access of their child to any specific library books by informing the school.

The district letter went on to propose that the new TEA guidance will offer an avenue to pursue a solution within the district itself, rather than expecting individual districts to conduct an evaluation of the sales history of each vendor.

The Amarillo Independent School District and the Canyon Independent School District have both previously published their board policy manuals online, both of which include details on the most updated policies regarding resources such as library programs and instructional materials.