Greg Abbott Joins GOP Lawmaker's Campaign Targeting Books on Race, Gender in Texas Schools

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has joined a conservative state lawmaker's bid to investigate books that deal with topics including race and gender in public schools.

In a letter dated Monday, Abbott told the executive director of the Texas Association of School Boards that parents are worried that schools are exposing students to "pornography or other inappropriate content."

"A growing number of parents of Texas students are increasingly alarmed about some of the books and other content found in public school libraries that are extremely inappropriate in the public education system," the governor, who is running for reelection, wrote in the letter to Dan Troxell.

"The most flagrant examples include clearly pornographic images and substance that have no place in the Texas education system."

Abbott's letter did not specify what images he regarded as pornographic or which books he considered inappropriate, but said the organization's members have an "obligation to determine the extent to which such materials exist or are used in our schools and to remove any such content."

In a statement to Newsweek, the school board association said it was "confused" by Abbott's letter since it plays no role in determining what students study or read.

"We have received Governor Abbott's letter regarding parent concerns about books and other content reportedly found in some Texas public school libraries," the statement said. "We are confused, though, as to why this letter was sent to the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), which has no regulatory authority over school districts and does not set the standards for instructional materials, including library books."

The statement says the role of a school board "primarily includes establishing a strategic plan for the district, adopting policies in public meetings, approving the district's budget, and selecting and evaluating a superintendent. In most school districts, the review and selection of individual library materials traditionally has been an administrative responsibility managed by professional district staff."

It adds: "Of course, school board trustees care deeply about parent concerns and community input. That's why local school boards have policies and processes in place for parents to express their concerns about any matter affecting their local school community—including the challenge of library materials."

Abbott's letter comes after state Rep. Matt Krause, a Republican who chairs the House General Investigating Committee, informed the Texas Education Agency and some Texas school superintendents that he is "initiating an inquiry into Texas school district content."

In his letter, first reported by The Texas Tribune in October, Krause provided school officials with a 16-page list of about 850 books, and asked them to inform the committee of how many copies of the books they possess, where the books are located and how much they were bought for.

Included in the list are acclaimed novels such as the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron and the graphic novel version of The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Other books on the list cover topics such as teenage pregnancy, abortion, sexuality and racism. Titles by Black writers include Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.

Krause, who is running for Texas attorney general, also demanded school districts identify "any other books" containing material that could make students "feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously."

He gave officials until November 12 to respond, but did not say why he wanted the information or specify the consequences for not complying.

Earlier this year, Abbott signed a bill into law that is aimed at banning the teaching of critical race theory, an academic framework examining history through the lens of racism that has become a political flashpoint in the debate about how race and racism should be taught in schools.

Ovidia Molina, the president of the Texas State Teachers Association, said nothing in that law gives Krause the authority "to conduct this type of witch hunt."

"Rep. Krause's letter demanding that school superintendents provide him with lists of books dealing with certain subjects on their school bookshelves is disturbing and political overreach into the classroom," Molina said. "What will Rep. Krause propose next? Burning books he and a handful of parents find objectionable?"

Abbott and Krause have been contacted for further comment.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks
Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks during the Houston Region Business Coalition's monthly meeting on October 27, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Brandon Bell/Getty Images