KELLER, Texas — More than 70 people spoke for nearly three hours in Keller ISD’s board meeting Monday to debate what books belong in schools.
“We are willing to drive away people rather than embrace them,” one parent said.
“This is exactly what Satan is attempting to do now, to pervert the minds of our children to fight in his war,” another parent weighed in.
The debate was over whether to change the district’s library policy to ban all books that discuss or include characters who are nonbinary or transgender, which the district describes under the term "gender fluidity."
“To hear so many people stand up there last night, it was gut-wrenching,” Keller parent Gretchen Veling said Tuesday.
Veling was one of the many speakers at Monday’s meeting and made a plea to the board on behalf of her son, a senior in the district who’s nonbinary.
“I promise you my child is not a political agenda,” Veling said in the meeting. “I’m so proud of each and every one of them. Unfortunately, from where I stand it appears their lives don’t matter to you.”
The board passed the measure 4-2. Keller is one of several North Texas school districts in Tarrant County where a Christian, conservative political group helped elect school board members.
“I do trust librarians. I trust our teachers and I wanted to know that I don’t have to look at this list but here I am finding multiple books that unfortunately are part of the LGBTQ community,” school board member Joni Shaw Smith said in the meeting.
“Discussions regarding gender fluidity and other ideologies do not belong in schools,” board vice president Sandi Walker said.
Veling was emotional sharing that as disappointed as she was hearing comments from community members, the board’s words added insult to injury.
“I’ve been going to the school board for a while now and honestly, I think last night was the hardest. It was tough,” she said. “I didn’t see any empathy in the four board members. I didn’t see any.”
Keller isn’t alone.
Frisco’s board voted Monday to change its board policy which has already been criticized for banning hundreds of books including national best sellers, a book by Stephen Hawking and restricting classics like The Hobbit or The Giver to sixth grade and above.
“Many of the resources deemed to be controversial directly impact the voices of marginalized communities,” a Frisco student said during the board’s meeting.
Keller’s book-banning controversy gained national attention this summer when the district briefly banned the Bible and a graphic adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary.
Veling said removing books doesn’t erase the information contained in them, it only harms kids by sending a message those students are an unwelcome topic.
“I feel like the indoctrination is trying to stop exposure to what’s happening in our world and keeping them closed off,” she said. “Our biggest fear is that the teachers are going to jump ship, the counselors are going to jump ship, principals are going to jump ship and then where does that leave our kids.”
The new Keller ISD policy is an update to a rubric for books that it created in August with guides for what grade could read books with topics like alcohol and drug use and kissing.
The ACLU of Texas said the new policy violated the first amendment and, “seeks to erase transgender and nonbinary identity. It sends the message that transgender and nonbinary students do not belong to the Keller ISD community”
Texas lawmakers have begun filing bills for the upcoming legislative session next year, and Rep Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, proposed a bill requiring publishers to assign content ratings to books before they can be sold to schools, similar to movie ratings.
Veling said simply having the books about nonbinary and transgender characters would be a sign of acceptance.
“I wonder if any of those people in that room have actually sat down and had a conversation with a trans person,” she said. “If you only read a book about people who look like you and feel like you, you will never grow individually.”