Fifteen speakers at the North East ISD board meeting Dec. 13 chided the district’s controversial book review policy, opposing removal of hundreds of library books they claim are being targeted for political reasons.

NEISD officials have come under fire for their attempt to revise the district’s process of reviewing library books included in a list of more than 850 books with content questioned recently by State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth.

MacArthur High School teacher Heathcliff Lopez told trustees he believes the titles on Krause’s list were produced by a diverse group of authors who wrote about personal experiences that were infrequently seen or marginalized in literature in past decades.

“As an educator, I understand there should be appropriateness when it comes to what students read. What I can’t help but notice is the amount of cherry-picking that is happening concerning the text of experiences you are choosing to suppress,” Lopez said.

Superintendent Sean Maika said the district was not banning books, but rather working to recruit faculty members, librarians and parents to help recreate the review process that would involve about 750,000 library book copies. He also said he believes in having a diverse library book collection to benefit the diverse community of school children.

“North East ISD educators, myself included—we believe that our school libraries should be a place where different viewpoints are made available,” Maika told board members and the audience. “As educators, we have a responsibility to ensure the content in our libraries is age-appropriate and academically appropriate for our children.”

NEISD and numerous other Texas public school districts received a letter from Krause in November after he told the Texas Education Agency in October that he was launching an inquiry into school library books containing “material that might make students feel discomfort.” Krause chairs the House Committee on General Investigating. Numerous districts have since removed books from campus libraries, according to reports.

Gov. Greg Abbott followed suit by requesting an investigation into “the availability of pornography" in Texas public schools, according to his Nov. 10 letter to the TEA.

Maika wrote to NEISD parents and guardians Dec. 7, citing concerns about the presence of one school library book’s depiction of race and another book containing “graphic, vulgar language of a sexual nature.” The referenced books, according to Maika, are “The Story of Little Black Sambo” and “Lawn Boy,” respectively.

In his Dec. 7 letter and again at the Dec. 13 school board meeting, Maika said neither politics nor censorship is prompting the district to remove library books deemed inappropriate per Krause’s inquiry. NEISD Chief Instructional Officer Anthony Jarrett said to date 215 library books were retained following a review of 252 titles.

Jarrett said another 20 books found in elementary campus libraries were relocated to middle or high school libraries because they are not “age-appropriate.” Thirty-seven more titles were being replaced with similarly themed books because they are damaged or obsolete, Jarrett said.

“There is no intent, whatsoever, to remove books from libraries. The intent for a book to be considered for removal is because the book is damaged or outdated and no longer factual,” Jarrett added.

Still, speakers at the board meeting shared their worries.

Reagan High School senior Amanda Jennings told the board she believes Krause has no standing to demand anything from a school district outside of his legislative jurisdiction. She also said she believes Krause’s list is targeting mainly books written by women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community, and publications that provide historical perspectives of race, sex and sexuality.

“Kids need to feel represented by the books that their schools provide, and those who don’t know about minority groups should have access to these books to learn,” Jennings said. “History isn’t always pleasant. It’s often upsetting or uncomfortable. If we hide students from anything that might make them feel uncomfortable, we are hiding the truth from them.

Adonis Schurmann, president of the North East Education Association, said he believes Krause’s initiative is politically motivated because he is appealing to prospective voters ahead of the March Republican primary election, in which he is challenging state Attorney General Ken Paxton.

“NEEA is seeking assurances from [district] administration that no book will be reviewed simply because it deals with subjects such as race relations or LGBTQ issues that make some people feel very uncomfortable,” she said.

District resident Luke Rosenberger said he believes any book review process must be fully transparent.

“If the current master review of library materials is not conducted with full transparency according to existing board policy, it undermines the legitimacy of that policy,” he said.