Last week, the Eanes Independent School District, which encompasses part of Austin, Texas, and communities west of the city, opened up about the status of neighborhood book challenges. Since March 20, 2022, more than 120 books have been submitted for formal reconsideration to the district, which has one high school, two middle schools and six elementary schools. Every book challenge comes from continuous circulation List of Moms for Freedom hits.
All challenges are from less than ten people and the collective Eanes chapter of Moms For Liberty / Eanes Kids First. They come in the weeks before Texas statewide school electionsincluding Eanes, where more than one board seat will be determined on Saturday May 7 (tomorrow). Alone Granbury Independent School District and the Northeast Independent School District have seen more challenges this school year.
Eanes Kids First is a ‘parents’ rights’ group that has developed a comprehensive collection of books deemed inappropriate, noting not only where these books are located in the district, but also the “problems” they contain. Among the reasons why books are a problem? LGBTQ topics, race and diversity topics, and mental health stories. For groups like this claiming that these book challenges are simply about obscenity and vulgarity, the transparency in these lists of why the books are problematic says otherwise. It is a blatant attack on marginalized people and stories.
Eanes ISD published the list of book challenges on its website at the end of April, including the titles, challenger, date and status of each title, providing transparency to the whole process. The book’s challengers, who demanded transparency about the materials used and available in schools, were appalled by the district’s decision to give them exactly that.
At the last school board meeting, Aaron Silva, partner of one of the named book challengers, used his three minutes during the open comment (from 1:57) to criticize the council’s decision to do so. He called it a failure of the board to make such a decision “at the worst possible time.” In the next breath, Silva highlights how he and others demanded clear and transparent communication. He claims reputable parents have been suspended and fed on social media over the move, apparently ignoring the same behaviors advocated and promoted within the Eanes Kids First/Moms For Liberty groups. Silva is the founder and spearhead of the Eanes United Parents podcast, which according to Franklin Strong’s documentation, “while Eanes Kids First sponsors the podcast”, “EKF has absolutely no editorial input to my podcast. It’s me and me only. The podcast is not an organ for their views and if there are any similarities it is only by coincidence.
Other conversations in both Facebook groups called the board’s decision “doxxing” and that “the damage done to our community is hard to measure, but one thing is certain, that their idea of ’TRANSPARENCY’ only proved that they ALL truly lack strong leadership skills.”
At the same board meeting, a participant held up an image of Gender Queer from the public to support the small number of parents who have come forward to complain or read books from the library. No library in the district has Gender Queer.
Due to the district’s small size, staff are now strained with book challenges. Attending 120 reconsideration meetings means staff are unable to do their jobs and serve their students and educators. The cost to taxpayers is enormous and the cost to staff in time, money, energy and distress is significant. As the challenged books are the same as those challenged nationally – titles that are popular and accessible in many school libraries because they are well-reviewed and meet the needs and interests of the community – it is clear that the effort on the part of those who dispute is not on the books but on creating discord.
Eanes Kids First/Moms For Liberty Travis County have taken their push for conservative candidates in the district elections further, which started the last election. They threw their plea behind Jay Lamy and Jim Withers, who sent automated call messages to registered voters paid by the Republican National Committee, according to the message itself. Despite Republican National Committee endorsement and funding, Withers says he will keep politics out of the classroom to unite the community.
In Texas, school board candidates are nonpartisan, but that hasn’t stopped this election from being steeped in politically affiliated campaign contributions.
Eanes ISD School Board followed its reconsideration policies throughout the process. They require parents to file a formal review, and while the books are being reviewed, they remain on the shelves for students to access. Due to the number of contested books — among the most in the state of Texas — the process will stretch into the fall, as those meetings won’t take place in the summer, according to the school.
Westlake High School is consistently ranked among the top schools in the nation. This year US News and World Report placed it at No. 261 nationally and No. 46 in Texas.
Books do not harm students.
If you can now, run and vote in school board elections. This is especially crucial in communities in Texas, where book bans have taken hold. The Eanes School Board could also use your support through letters indicating its willingness to follow its own policy and ensure students have access to diverse, developmentally appropriate materials selected by trained professionals – not politicians or politically affiliated community members with singular agendas. They can be reached here.
For more ways to take action against censorship, use this toolkit on how to fight book bans and challenges, and this guide to identifying fake news. Then learn how and why you might want to use FOIA to uncover the book’s challenges.