The Keller School Board has approved a policy banning library books at all grade levels that includes discussion of gender fluidity.
Community members from both sides of the issue rallied in Keller’s administration building on Monday night as a North Texas school board meeting once again became the place where LGBTQ students are placed at the center of a debate fierce politics.
Also on the Keller ISD agenda was a discussion of allowing certain district staff to carry arms on campus, at board meetings, and at other ISD-sponsored events. school.
Both policy plans may foreshadow the kinds of discussions conservative-controlled school boards could have across Texas this year. Keller is one of the few districts in Tarrant County where candidates backed by Patriot Mobile Action – a Christian PAC – have gained a foothold in recent elections.
After about two hours of public testimony, the four new directors voted in favor of the policy.
Several speakers thanked the new board members for keeping their promises now that they are on the slides.
“You promised to stand up for our children, you promised to put education above indoctrination. … That’s what you’re doing tonight,” said Nate Schatzline, who recently won a seat in the Texas House.
“You didn’t put any political beliefs into this,” he added, which made some onlookers laugh.
With the bill also beginning on Monday, Keller’s measures are also indicative of the kinds of proposals that could gain traction in the Legislative Assembly, bolstered by midterm Republican victories that could fuel a push to the right.
Keller has been at the heart of the fight for the books. Over the summer, the district pulled dozens of books from the shelves, including the Bible and an adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary. Some of the titles had previously passed a challenge in the district.
At the time, district spokesman Bryce Nieman said it was because administrators had recently approved a new policy requiring every previously challenged book to be reviewed.
The trustees have established a new far-reaching book policy in August.
The rules prohibited content that includes horror, underage drug or alcohol use, tobacco use, the “glorification of suicide, self-harm or mental illness” and material considered to be sexually explicit in elementary schools. In higher grades, the guidelines become less restrictive.
Monday’s agenda item further changed the guidelines. He added “discussion or depiction of gender fluidity” to the list of topics that are not allowed at any level, from elementary to high school.
The policy defines gender fluidity as promoting the idea that it is possible for a person to be non-binary. It also applies the term to any support for therapies that alter a person’s body to match their “presumed gender different from the person’s biological sex”, as determined by their birth certificate.
KISD Board Chairman Charles Randklev wrote in a Facebook post that the content guidelines aim to “protect children from sexually explicit and age-inappropriate teaching materials”.
“Political topics like gender theory and sexual identity are best discussed within families, as parents choose, rather than in the classroom,” he wrote.
The ACLU of Texas denounced it as an attempt to erase transgender and non-binary identity. The group accused the district of violating the First Amendment by restricting students’ access to ideas.
“It sends the message that transgender and non-binary students do not belong in the Keller ISD community,” writes the group.
Opponents of the policy said every student deserved to see themselves reflected in literature. They pointed to the high rates of depression and suicide among transgender youth, saying these children need to feel supported and affirmed.
Gretchen Veling, who has a non-binary child in the district, reminded the board that there are “gender non-conforming students and trans students walking through our halls.”
“You’d rather hit a marginalized group than stand up for all KISD students,” Veling said.
Rules targeting transgender and non-binary students are increasingly being proposed across Texas and will likely be the focus of the Legislative Assembly. Also on Monday night, Frisco administrators were discuss a new bathroom policy.
The board also discussed a proposal to allow specific employees to have firearms on campus, if they get the superintendent’s approval, hold a handgun license and undergo training.
The choice to carry a weapon would be voluntary for employees. The superintendent would also have the ability to revoke an employee’s authorization to transport at any time.
“We’re looking for quality, not quantity, if it’s approved,” administrator Micah Young said.
The board could vote on the policy next month. The district plans to solicit more community and staff input on the idea.
Keller wouldn’t be the only one allowing this. Texas has two programs that allow certain people to carry guns on campus.
“The proposed change allows employees who volunteer and meet very rigorous qualifications to serve as guardians to quickly protect our schools in the event of an attack,” Randklev wrote.
Several speakers in favor of the proposal repeated the belief that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
In the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, an armed school resource officer never entered the high school or engaged the shooter during the attack. Hundreds of armed officers responded to Robb Elementary, but they did not arrest the shooter for over an hour.
Opponents of the idea pointed to these instances and wondered how students and teachers would be protected from accidental discharge or misfire.
Nieman said in a statement that the district already has school resources on its branch campuses.
“Regardless of direction,” Nieman wrote, “the safety of our students and staff will continue to be our utmost concern as we continue to prioritize an exceptional education at Keller ISD, while ensuring the safest possible environment.”
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