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State Representative Matt Krause said he would not offer details of his investigation into books on racism and sexuality available in some public schools in Texas, such as where the list came from. of approximately 850 pounds included in his request, which districts received his letter or how those districts were chosen.
The Fort Worth Republican, who chairs the House General Inquiry Committee, said he was limited in what he could say because it could jeopardize a potential or pending investigation. But House Democrats, many of whom have accused Krause of trying to censor progressive literature, stress that school districts are not obligated to respond.
Meanwhile, school districts were divided over how to respond, with the Fort Worth Independent School District saying it would comply and school districts in Austin and Dallas rejecting Krause’s investigation. A number of other major school districts in Texas told the Texas Tribune that they are still reviewing the letter.
“It is the practice of the general commission of inquiry not to comment on ongoing or potential investigations,” Krause, a candidate for the state attorney general, said on Friday. “You don’t want to compromise anything with a potential investigation by disclosing information that is supposed to be confidential and privileged. “
Krause’s comments came days after lawmakers informed the Texas Education Agency that they were “launching an investigation into the contents of the Texas school district,” according to an Oct. 25 letter obtained by the Tribune.
Krause included in his letter a 16-page list of about 850 book titles and asked districts if they had these books, how many copies they had, and how much money had been spent on them. His letter did not provide any information about his intentions or what possession of the books would mean for the districts.
Krause’s list of titles includes a number of bestsellers and award winners, including the 1967 Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Confessions of Nat Turner” by William Styron and “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The list includes books that help kids respond to bullying and others that focus on LGBTQ characters, in addition to telling stories about the Black Lives Matter movement.
The probe comes after the Texas legislature this year passed two laws to restrict the way teachers can talk about race-related topics in school, pushed by GOP lawmakers who have so-called “Critical theory of race” in schools.
Krause referred to the laws in an interview with Dallas radio host Mark Davis on Friday morning and said his investigation “could be of great benefit to school districts scouring inventory to say, ‘Hey, have we- us something that might be in violation [of state law] or not ?’
It is not known which school districts in Texas have so far been targeted by Krause, but the independent school districts of Fort Worth, San Antonio, Houston, Austin, Round Rock, Northside and Spring Branch have all confirmed to the Tribune that they had received his letter.
Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner said in a statement the district will comply, but maintained the district is following all state-approved processes to select new textbooks for students.
“As for other reading materials, our senior professional school librarian oversees reviews of new titles and consults with national clearinghouses as well as other school librarians, educators and parents to provide the best and latest titles to our students, ”Scribner said. “We have a process for parents to request a review of any title found in their campus library that may help raise a concern. “
Scott Thomas, spokesperson for Austin ISD, said the school district determined that an “answer was not necessary, especially since anyone can search our library” on the website of school.
Robyn L. Harris, spokesperson for ISD Dallas, said Krause’s investigation was an “unofficial request and as such we are not going to respond.”
Jenny Caputo, the district spokesperson for Round Rock, said it would take “considerable staff time to put together the information necessary to meet this request.” The other school districts said they are still reviewing the request.
Democrats stressed that Krause had no subpoena power, which lawmakers agreed to on Friday, calling his probe an attempt to find out “whether something needs to be followed up or not.”
In a note to its members and staff earlier this week, the House Democratic Caucus wrote that while Krause “may act on behalf of the entire committee to” inspect records, documents and records “of school districts “Thanks to a motion passed by committee members earlier this year, the power of the legislature is not extended to require school districts to create new documents related to its investigation.
Democrats also wondered why lawmakers refused to say where this list of books came from or how certain school districts were chosen.
“In my opinion, this is not an investigation – it is a fishing expedition,” State Representative Chris Turner, a Democrat from Grand Prairie who chairs his party caucus, told the Tribune. lower house. “It is quite legitimate to ask where the list of books came from and how it was formulated, as well as how the list of school districts [Krause] sent this to was formulated. There is no reason that these questions cannot be answered.
Earlier Friday, Krause told Davis, the Dallas radio host, that the list of some 850 books is not “exhaustive” or “exclusive,” and that an included book does not necessarily mean it had to be removed from the library shelves.
“It just means that it contains content that may be affected by new provisions passed by the Texas Legislature,” Krause said. “I think it’s always important for the legislature to know the effects of what they’re doing – is it too broad, is it too narrow, is it too specific, isn’t it broad enough? “
Krause’s vice-chair on the committee, Dallas Democrat Victoria Neave, who did not respond to a request for comment on Friday, called Krause’s move “yet another attempt by Republicans to censor people’s votes. of color “in a statement earlier this week that was supported by other groups, including the House Democratic Caucus, the LGBTQ Caucus, the Texas Legislative Black Caucus and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.
Other Democrats like Turner have suggested Krause’s move was “clearly a campaign stunt” as part of his candidacy challenging Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. At least three Republicans vie to overthrow Paxton. Krause, for his part, said he would not have used a number “which I thought was completely private and which I cannot comment on.”
Meanwhile, State Representative Jeff Cason, R-Bedford, calls on Paxton Friday to open a statewide investigation into a novel that the lawmaker said “addresses topics that are unsuitable for school libraries and may even be criminal for its portrayal of minors participating in sexual activity.” Cason also asked Paxton to investigate other books on the same subject “as well as the legal ramifications for school districts that have approved these types of books.”
The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Kevin Reynolds contributed to this report.