Texas Association of School Boards publishes report, answers questions on classroom content

Local News

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) announced Monday that it compiled a set of answers to frequently asked questions, as well as published an illustrated table, that was intended to explain the differences between school curriculum and library content.

“This FAQ document has been developed to help Texas school board trustees and district administrators better understand, and speak to, some key differences between instructional materials used in the classroom as part of required curriculum and library books used for voluntary inquiry,” said the TASB in its publication. It continued to say that the document was also meant to help parents understand their rights regarding challenging resources used in school curriculum.

While the TASB did not say the publication was a direct response to recent events, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has accused the TASB of “abdicating any and all responsibility” regarding preventing public school students from being exposed to pornography. Abbott has issued letters to the TASB as well as the Texas Education Agency (TEA), The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC), and the State Board of Education (SBOE) with directives to improve transparency about how content is taken into public schools and, “develop statewide standards to prevent the presence of pornography and other obscene content in Texas public schools, including in school libraries.”

It has continued to remain unclear what Abbott specifically meant when referencing “other” inappropriate or obscene content.

This has also followed the launch of an inquiry and the launch of an inquiry by Representative Matt Krause that asked some school districts – including Amarillo ISD – to turn in an audit by Nov. 12 regarding whether or not certain books were available in their libraries.

As of Nov. 23, Amarillo ISD has not responded to questions regarding the process in creating that report or the result of that inquiry, asked by MyHighPlains.com.

The 9-page document published by the TASB included explaining the difference between instructional resources, instructional materials, and library books involving the published illustration:

via TASB Twitter

The TASB said that while instructional materials and library books are both instructional resources, they are not the same and the terms are not interchangeable. Library books are treated differently from materials used during classroom instruction because libraries are places of “voluntary inquiry,” students are not required to read library books but are required to know the material covered during classroom instruction.

Some selection and approval processes for instructional materials and library books are the same, according to TASB, but not always. Some similar processes included:

  • School boards distribute instruction, including selecting instructional resources (instructional materials and library books), to certified district educators
    • As a given example, TASB said that one longstanding policy noted that, “The Board shall rely on District professional staff to select and acquire instructional resources that: 1. Enrich and support the curriculum…” based on official guidelines that establish what curriculum is required to cover.

This similar process, said TASB, is in place because “Certified educators – with their professional training and continuing education requirements – have traditionally been viewed as the best resource for instructional decisions.”

Some differences in the process outlined by TASB included:

  • Instructional materials used in the classroom have a specific, far more strict adoption process in order to make sure classroom instruction follows state law. The process was created to ensure that material in classroom instruction specifically aligns with and supports TEKS.
  • Meanwhile, although state guidelines still need to be considered when making content selections, school libraries have more flexibility in what they allow on shelves because students are not required to interact with the content stored in the library.

The TASB document also outlined the steps that school districts follow in order to decide what materials are used for classroom instruction:

  • The state approves a list of instructional materials. The SBOE uses an adoption cycle for “foundation curriculum” – English and Spanish language arts and reading, math, science, and social studies – that reviews the subjects at least once every eight years.
    • “Enrichment curriculum” is reviewed less often – languages other than English, health, physical education, fine arts, career and technology education, technology application, religious literature, and personal financial literacy.
  • Local school districts use the approved list to choose materials for foundation curriculum, and ensure that enrichment curriculum materials comply with TEKS. Each year during a time decided by the SBOE, local school boards report what material they select.
    • The SBOE must be notified of instructional materials chosen for enrichment curriculum as well, and must have the TEA certify any materials that were not specifically on the state approved list.
  • These selections are made in public. School boards must vote to select these instruction materials in an open meeting, and must also post a notice of the meeting in advance as well as accept public comments.

The TASB, further into the published document, described steps used by school districts to decide what books are in the school library:

  • School districts look to state-decided standards. While working with the SBOE, the TSLAC chooses standards for school library services that school districts must consider while developing, implementing, or expanding library services.
    • TASB noted that state standards “emphasize the intellectual development of students, community collaboration, and privacy interests.” For example, state standards include:
      • Information literacy. School library programs offer information literacy instruction aimed to help students “efficiently locate, accurately evaluate, ethically use, and clearly communicate information in various formats.
      • Leadership. School library program activities should show evidence of best practices when modeled by a full-time, certified school librarian in every school supported by trained paraprofessionals.
        • The school library program involves leadership activities and professional development across campus, district, and professional communities. These include opportunities for collaboration and opportunities to help learners become independent users and producers of ideas and information.
        • The library advocates for and protects each user’s right to privacy, confidentiality, and age-appropriate pricniples of intellectual freedom. Student privacy is protected as indicated by best library practices (ALA Privacy) and federal FERPA law.

Regarding the rights that parents have to review instructional materials, the TASB noted that parents are entitled to:

  • Review all teaching materials, instructional materials – including while the child is participating in virtual or remote learning – and other teaching aids used int he classroom of the parent’s child;
  • Review each test administered to the child after the test is administered; and
  • Observe virtual instruction while the parent’s child is participating in virtual or remote learning to the same extent the parent would be entitled to observe in-person instruction.

What happens if a parent or concerned person thinks an instruction material used in the classroom isn’t appropriate? According to the TASB, parents are able to ask that their student be temporarily excused from the assignment. By law, parents are allowed to remove their student temporarily from a class or activity that conflicts with a parent’s moral or religious beliefs, by giving the student’s teacher a written statement authorizing the removal.

On this note, the TASB said that parents are not entitled to remove their student from a class or other school activity to avoid a test, or to prevent the student from taking a subject for an entire semester.

What happens if a parent or concerned person thinks a resource in the school library is not appropriate? The TASB noted that every school district has a local process for fielding complaints, which allows anyone to present a grievance to the district.

Most school districts have a process to review library resources after a parent complaint or concern is received. Policy from the TASB encourages concerns to be informally resolved by allowing the appropriate administrator to “explore the parent’s concern, offer explanatory information, and offer an alternative resource for the parent’s child.”

For formal reconsideration of instructional resources, TASB said that most often a parent would be asked to fill out a complaint form so an administrator can gather a reconsideration committee. These committees often include a staff member familiar with the resource or has experience using it with students, as well as others such as district staff, library staff, secondary-level students, and parents. The committee would then review the entirety of the challenged material, consider the material related to policy criteria, and then makes a recommendation to the administration about the material. Typically, these committee principles include:

  • The person who complained can object to an instructional resource used in an educational program, despite the fact that it was chosen and approved by professionals who were qualified to make the initial selection and followed proper procedure.
  • A parent’s ability to exercise control over reading, listening to, or viewing material only extends to their own child.
  • Access to the challenged resource cannot be restricted during the reconsideration process, except that if a parent requests it then their specific child may be denied access.
  • The major criterion for the final decision is how appropriate that material is for educational use. No challenged instructional resource will be removed only because of the ideas it expresses.

The TASB also published points of other consideration regarding the constitutional implications of removing library books, and why there is a special procedure at all for library resources being reconsidered.

Once a resource has been made available in a school library, TASB commented that the resource being removed implicates students’ First Amendment rights. The First Amendment rights of students could be “directly and sharply” impacted by books being removed from a school library, according to a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1982.

School districts have “significant local control” over instruction and material selection, according to TASB. Including guiding curriculum according to state law, local school boards have broad discretion in managing school affairs. The US Supreme Court has acknowledged that local school boards must be allowed to establish and apply their curriculum “in such a way as to transmit community values.”

The removal, not the selection, of library books, raises constitutional concerns, said TASB. The Supreme Court decision “suggests there is a meaningful difference between curriculum conveyed in a compulsory setting and the school library, which is a place for “voluntary inquiry.” Although school officials retain significant discretion over the contents of the school library, state and local discretion may not be exercised in a way that violates students’ free speech rights by removing books for partisan or political reasons.”

Including providing a resource for people to see the US Department of Justice’s Citizen’s Guide to US Federal Law on Obscenity, the TASB went on to discuss how school officials can and cannot be prosecuted for displaying a “harmful material” to a minor and how a school district might determine that a resource should be removed for a lack of educational value.

Overall, the TASB publication appeared to align with previous statements by local districts such as the Amarillo Independent School District regarding educational materials. According to Amarillo ISD in a previous statement on the ongoing audit, books that are a part of AISD’s curriculum “are generally vetted through a process that includes teachers, district and school administration, and any other individuals who offer specific content expertise to evaluate whether the material is age, grade, and content appropriate.” Those libraries are also given content through district sharing and alongside public library resources.

The full published FAQ from the TASB can be seen here.

The ongoing MyHighPlains.com coverage regarding Texas education can be found including, in chronological order:

The Amarillo Public Library has remained a source of multiple databases for scholarly works, classroom discussion, research, and entertainment for students of all ages that can be accessed and filtered using school information and school ID or library-card-based login.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Video Forecast

Don't Miss