The Fight Against Texas’ HB 900 is a Fight for Public Education

February 1, 2024 | Texas

We’ve won a major battle in the fight against book bans in Texas, but the war isn’t over. HB 900, the Texas book ban law authored by Frisco Representative Jared Patterson, has been rendered toothless now that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the district court’s decision to block several of the most dangerous parts of the bill from being implemented.

The Fifth Circuit’s ruling strikes down the bureaucratic book rating regime that could have banned inclusive, representative, and culturally relevant books from our classrooms. This is great news for students, parents, and teachers who have mounted resistance against the bill and know firsthand the tremendous harm to public education and the safety of young Texans that extremist laws like HB 900 inflict.

Despite this legal victory for the freedom to read, many Texas libraries are still vulnerable to book banning tactics. Several school boards have been taken over by extreme Christian nationalist companies and conservative PACs, like Patriot Mobile, and are filled with members who support Governor Abbott’s plan to defund public education through vouchers. 

In North Texas, Fort Worth ISD closed its libraries for two weeks at the beginning of the year and has taken 120 books off the shelves for review because of pressure from Christian nationalist group Citizens Defending Freedom. Meanwhile, in Keller, one book about a little Black girl getting a new hairstyle and another about two dragons one parent described as “lesbian”, were also targeted for removal.  The blight reached further south as well, with the 10 largest Houston-area school districts banning 67 books overall. Conroe ISD alone banned 59. Katy ISD even placed the power to ban books squarely in the hands of its school board after it had already stopped purchasing new books and marked new ones for scrutiny.

HB 900 has been cited as justification for both the banning of books and for policies that ban discussions over race and target transgender students. This bill employs fear mongering and dog whistles to advance bigoted and discriminatory policies.

Over the past two years, Texas students have demonstrated real leadership by forming banned books clubs, testifying in support of an honest education, and campaigning and voting for candidates who champion public schools. HB 900 attempted to silence the voices of young Texans who demanded an inclusive and truthful education for all students, but the majority of us who oppose book bans and support the freedom to learn must join students and booksellers in speaking out against this harmful law. Children’s Defense Fund-Texas is committed to making this vision a reality.

We must ensure our students attend schools that are safe, supportive, and fully funded by showing up at both school board meetings and school board elections across Texas, like the ones coming up in May. We must hold our school administrators and our legislators accountable by keeping track of what policies are being pushed in our districts. We must demand that enriching and worthwhile books stay on our shelves and in our classrooms.

Texas students deserve access to books that reflect their own lives, teach them about others’ lives, and inspire them to lead. As the Fifth Circuit ruling reaffirms, young Texans have a First Amendment right to receive information and to read freely in their school libraries. And as Governor Abbott calls to abandon public schools and extremist Christian nationalist companies and PACs fill public school boards with parents whose children attend private schools, it becomes clear that it will take more court victories like this one and a movement of advocacy and civic engagement to put HB 900 and other bills like it in the ground for good. 

Rachel Myles