One of the more contentious issues affecting public education and the state legislature during the 88th legislative session this past year was what types of books should be allowed in Texas public school libraries. Let’s take a look at information on TX HB 900 and the mandatory school library collection development standards.
What Is TX HB900?
HB 900, the READER Act (Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources), by Representative Jared Patterson (R-Denton) was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott on September 1, 2023. It mandated that the Texas State Libraries and Archives Commission (TSLAC), with approval from the State Board of Education (SBOE), develop and adopt new mandatory school library collection development standards applicable to all Texas public school districts. These mandatory collection development standards became effective on January 3, 2024, with enforcement of the new standards being the responsibility of the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
How Will HB 900 Be Implemented?
There has been a great deal of confusion and uncertainty about how HB 900 will be implemented and, while much of the newly mandated collection development standards are similar to prior years, there were some significant changes.
The new standards define “sexually explicit” and “sexually relevant” material and require booksellers and publishers to assign “sexually explicit” and “sexually relevant” ratings. These ratings are required for any material for future circulation or currently in circulation that the seller determines meets the law’s definitions.
Additionally, the new standards require that sellers recall materials sold to a district that the seller has rated “sexually explicit.” Materials rated “sexually explicit” may not be sold to Texas school districts. Materials rated “sexually relevant” require parental consent for a student to check out the material. Sellers are required to submit their first report listing library materials they have rated “sexually relevant” or “sexually explicit” to the TEA by April 1, 2024.
United States Court for the Western District of Texas Ruling
Due to this new state mandate, a coalition of booksellers and publishers (plaintiffs) filed suit against the TSLAC, the SBOE, and the TEA (defendants) in the United States Court for the Western District of Texas in July of 2023. The district court issued an injunction and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, citing that the new mandate violated the plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights as defined by the U.S. Constitution.
United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Ruling
Lawyers representing the defendants proceeded to file an appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. On January 17, 2024, in a unanimous opinion, the court found the statute compelling the booksellers and publishers to rate books, “…likely violates the First Amendment” and affirmed the western district court’s preliminary injunction against the defendants. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit did however stipulate that all other mandates contained in the adopted School Library Programs: Collection Development Standards shall continue to be implemented.
Will an Appeal Be Filed to the United States Supreme Court?
The final recourse of the defendants would be to file an appeal with the United States Supreme Court. It is yet to be determined if an appeal will be filed. So, as it stands currently, booksellers and publishers selling to Texas public school libraries do not have to rate the books that they sell.
Sarah Chapman, Flour Bluff High School’s Lead Librarian originally presented this information during TCEA’s Lunch and Learn on Legislative Changes Affecting Texas Public School Districts. You can sign up for TCEA’s Lunch and Learn’s here. The information provided is intended to convey general information only and not to provide legal advice or opinions.