Student activists speak to Katy ISD board after distributing books about racism and LGBTQ+ issues

Rosie Nguyen Image
Tuesday, March 1, 2022
Battle over books in Katy ISD hinges on 'salacious' content
During a board meeting, parents and students condemned and applauded the district for removing books that are considered pornographic. So where do they go from here?

KATY, Texas (KTRK) -- A group of Katy ISD students and parents addressed the school board meeting Monday evening regarding their concerns about "censorship and intellectual freedom."

"I am strongly opposed to removing books from Katy ISD shelves for any reason," said Katy ISD mother, Shannon Flores.

"We are expected to choose our future, yet we are being denied the freedom to choose our reading material," said Alison Franks, a junior at Jordan High School.

"This concerning wave of censorship has malicious intent to uphold the status quo that keeps queer students and BIPOC students struggling each and every day," said Seven Lakes High School senior Cameron Samuels. "Censorship is not a legacy to create."

During the 2021-2022 school year, Katy ISD removed nine books from school libraries that were deemed "pervasively vulgar" following public outcry in the fall after a group of parents read salacious passages from some of the nine books aloud.

RELATED: Katy ISD creates online portal for parents' concerns over library books

But now a different group is criticizing the book review process.

"Of those nine books, five of them or 56% contain queer and/or nonbinary characters. What sort of message is this sending if we are bowing to pressure to remove books with queer themes?" said Flores.

Superintendent Ken Gregorski addressed concerns that the books removed are largely LGBTQ.

"The removal of books or any books that we have had to take off our shelves have gone through a committee process and have been deemed as pervasively vulgar. That is the only standard by which we remove books. No books are ever removed from any of our schools for content for which somebody may or may not disagree with."

"Taxpayers should not be funding accessibility to porn for our students in the school library. It has nothing to do with LGBTQ," said Claudia Turcott a Katy ISD mom.

"Banning books reduces and limits knowledge that people can have, which in turn limits mindsets and empathy," said Franks.

Monday night's back-and-forth comes after a student group distributed books addressing racism and LGBTQ+ issues at four schools last week in response to the district's recent ban of several books and websites.

WATCH: Student activists fight for resources on racism and LGBTQ+ issues

Cameron Samuels and Maghan Sadeghi were two of the students who spent a week distributing 400 copies of approximately 32 book titles during "FReadom Week" at Seven Lakes, Jordan, Taylor, and Tompkins high schools.

Cameron Samuels and Maghan Sadeghi were two of the students who spent a week distributing 400 copies of approximately 32 book titles during "FReadom Week" at Seven Lakes, Jordan, Taylor, and Tompkins high schools.

They said the books challenge the notion of white supremacy and heteronormative society. Sadeghi said she loves to read but doesn't feel represented as an Iranian American in school.

"I kind of felt growing up I didn't necessarily see people like myself in books that I read," she said. "Censorship is absolutely a danger to everything that the U.S. was built on. When we were kind of eradicating people who are crucial in our history and so much of today's society, we allow room for further bigotry."

RELATED: Katy ISD parents want book audit of district's libraries after claiming they found 'porn'

Voters of Tomorrow, a Gen-Z-led nonprofit organization, donated copies of Beloved by Toni Morrison and Maus by Art Spiegelman for student distribution. Samuels said publishers and community members donated the other titles.

"We are deeply concerned with this recent wave of book banning. Especially in books addressing racism, the Holocaust, LGBTQ+ issues, and reproductive rights. These two titles are included in the recent wave of book banning that is ravaging the nation," Voters of Tomorrow wrote in a press release.

Last winter, Katy ISD removed several books from its school libraries. One of the books, New Kid by Jerry Craft addressed racism, but was reinstated after review. Others, mainly featuring LGBTQ+ characters, were removed after some parents complained about inappropriate sexual content and language. The parents pointed to six books: "Me, Earl and the Dying Girl," "Forever for a Year," "Jack of Hearts (and other parts)," "All Boys Aren't Blue," "The Breakaways," and "The Nerdy and the Dirty."

"I knew the dangers of raising kids in a digital world and all the sexual and pornographic content, but finding the content of the books in my kids' schools has been a big slap in the face," parent Jennifer Adler said to ABC13 in November 2021.

RELATED: Book pulled from Katy ISD after parent petition is now back on library shelves

The school district also came under fire for blocking websites that provide resources for LGBTQ+ students, citing concerns about the availability of chat rooms. Those websites include the Trevor Project, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Montrose Center. Samuels, who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, said they were fortunate to have access to affirming material growing up. But they worry for other students who may not.

RELATED: Katy ISD continues to block LGBTQ+ resource websites as student appeals for change again

"That can have dramatic consequences to their mental health, to their emotional well-being, and possibly even in their life. So many students have told me that not having access to affirming content makes them feel alone and not supported by the world as a whole," they said. "When I was younger, coming out, and figuring out who I was, I relied on having access to internet content, literature, films, all that had these storylines and resources to support me."

Katy ISD issued the following statement to ABC13:

"The District is aware that student clubs may be planning to distribute books after hours at various high schools this week. Student clubs involved in the initiative have spoken with their campus principals and are following all applicable school district policies.

Per Katy ISD policy FNAA, approved student clubs may distribute materials and literature, with the exception of any works identified as "pervasively vulgar" as outlined in policy EF.

None of the books identified for distribution through this initiative have been prohibited by the district or deemed "pervasively vulgar."