The board had the opportunity to approve guidelines at its Sept. 13 meeting that stated “Library materials shall not include ‘harmful material’ as defined by Penal Code 43.24(a)(2).” However, Trustee Robert Scarfo suggested adding the state’s definition of harmful material to the guidelines.
The Texas Penal Code states “harmful material, when taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest of a minor, in sex, nudity or excretion; is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable for minors; and is utterly without redeeming social value for minors.”
At the Oct. 18 board meeting, Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said the newly approved guidelines now include the Penal Code definition of harmful material.
“We've had librarians, media specialists, who have been part of a pretty significant committee to review all of these things to come together on common language,” Fagen said. “Our original recommendation last month is very similar to the recommendation this evening. It's just that instead of just referencing the statute, the statutory language is actually inserted into the policy.”
The approved guidelines, which apply separately to instructional material and to library material, are coming as parents of HISD students continue to speak out at board meetings concerning books available at some campus' libraries that they contend contain sexually explicit and vulgar material.
Fagen said in previous meetings that the district has a review process in place to determine what books are available in libraries. She has also said the district has put measures in place to restrict access to books deemed inappropriate for certain age groups.
Scarfo noted at the Oct. 18 meeting that his intent regarding the revised guidelines was not to censor or ban books.
“I don’t think anyone who I’ve talked to on this board is looking for censorship, but we do need to meet the guidelines or meet the statutes to protect children from what the statutes declare is pornographic material,” Scarfo said.