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KHOU Investigates: Klein ISD quietly removes books about race, sex and abortion

The district is using a system usually reserved for old or damaged books to remove controversial titles.

KLEIN, Texas — Klein ISD has been quietly removing controversial books from its high school libraries, according to library records analyzed by KHOU Investigates.

For more than a year, KHOU Investigates has tracked books banned at Houston-area schools, requesting lists of books removed after internal reviews and complaints. Klein ISD said it removed only one in two school years, despite dozens of bans in neighboring districts.

But records show the district may have skirted the banning process by simply throwing away controversial books.

Libraries routinely refresh their collections by retiring outdated and damaged books, and state rules require libraries to keep “deaccession” records recording this. A KHOU Investigates analysis of Klein ISD’s records shows it also used the process to quietly remove dozens of books challenged or banned elsewhere.

Among those books was “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, a classic, where the main character, a black girl, is raped.

“I request that books of this nature be removed,” one parent told board members in December 2021.

Parents continued to argue about the book at board meetings even after the last copy was silently removed from Klein ISD libraries.

“I beg you to remove these books. You should be sickened that they are in our school libraries,” another parent said in April 2023.

And another parent defended the book just last month.

“What we do not need is folks complaining about books they never read,” she told board members. “Please do not remove books without librarians present.”

But that book had already been removed or “deaccessioned” from all Klein ISD libraries. Deaccession records from Klein’s five high schools show 3,000 books were tossed out since 2020.

The reason for those book removals is not included in the records, but a Klein ISD official said in an email, “books can become part of a deaccession list for many reasons including but not limited to: damage, lost or missing for over a certain period of time, obsolete (out of date), lack of adherence to TSLAC standards, low circulation, duplicate copies.”

Most fit the outdated and duplicate descriptions – copies of dated nonfiction like “AP World History, 2014-2015”, Are Cell Phones Dangerous?” from 2012 and classics like “1984” and “Animal Farm,” where a copy was removed in one library but there were still multiple copies in the same library and throughout the district.

But Klein ISD also removed at least 67 titles from all its libraries after they were banned or challenged elsewhere.

That includes nine titles that were removed and listed in a letter that the Texas American Civil Liberties Union sent to the district last year, writing, “Klein ISD has disappeared books from its libraries—it has secretly removed dozens of books from its shelves” a “violation of the First Amendment, the Texas Constitution and Klein ISD’s own policy.”

“It was a very high amount of books, and the content of the books was concerning,” said Chloe Kempf, an attorney with the Texas ACLU.

Books removed from all Klein ISD libraries that appeared on the ACLU list, include books about racial issues, including:

  • “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
  • “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison
  • “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Perez
  • “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander
  • “How to Be An Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi
  • “Everything you Love Will Burn: Inside The Rebirth Of White Nationalism In America” by Vegas Tenold

And books about abortion and LGBTQ issues:

  • “Roe v. Wade: The Untold Story of The Landmark Supreme Court Decision” by Marian Fox
  • “The Cider House Rules: A Novel” by John Irving
  • “Gay Issues and Politics” Jaime Seba

“Courts have been very clear when government officials banned books simply because they disagree with the ideas contained in those books, that violates students’ first amendment rights to access information,” Kempf said.

The only book that Klein ISD previously admitted to banning, graphic novel “Flamer” by Mike Curato, also appears in Klein’s deaccession records. That book was challenged at multiple other districts.

Those other districts also remove some controversial books like this and call it “weeding” or an internal review, and some like Katy ISD and Conroe ISD keep updated lists of dozens of controversial books they remove on their websites.

Many of those books also quietly vanished from Klein’s library shelves, including “Forever for a Year” by B.T. Gottfred, “Fun home: A Family Tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel, “Regretting you” by Colleen Hoover, “The Nerdy and the Dirty” by B.T. Gottfred and “The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel” by Margaret Atwood.

Even more were challenged outside the immediate area deaccessioned from all Klein libraries, including “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist ideas in America” by Ibram X. Kendi, “How Prevalent is Racism in Society?” by Peggy J. Parks, “Grasshopper Jungle” by Andrew Smith, “Golden Boy: a novel” by Abigail Tarttelin, “Feeling Wrong in Your Own Body: Understanding What It Means to Be

Transgender” by Jaime A. Seba and 43 books across three manga series that have been banned in other districts – “Assassination Classroom”, “Black Bulter” and “Soul Eater.”

“Why do they need to be secret? If there's a legitimate reason for removing the books, why can't it be done in public? It makes us concerned that the removals are part of a discriminatory politicization of these books that targets certain books and certain students,” Kempf said.

She said the ACLU believes Klein has broken the law, but the organization is unsure whether it will file suit against the district.

“Right now, you know, we have all of our options on the table, but haven't made a decision,” she said.

Klein ISD declined an on-camera interview, but provided the following statement through its director of communications:

“Klein ISD maintains a dynamic collection of over 660,000 library books. We regularly review our resources for alignment with state law, educational standards, and to ensure all instructional materials are age-appropriate and do not contain sexually explicit material. We will not compromise on our commitment to providing our students high-quality, developmentally appropriate instruction.”

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