State Watch

Texas governor orders education officials to investigate whether pornography is available in schools

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has ordered the state’s education agency to investigate if pornography is available in school libraries and to refer any instances “for prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.”

Abbott, in a Wednesday letter to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath, directed him to “investigate any criminal activity in our public schools involving the availability of pornography.”

Texas is one of several states around the country where parents and elected officials have been pushing back against books that deal with race, LGBT issues and subjects of sexual abuse.

Abbott previously directed the Texas Education Agency, the State Board of Education and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to start writing up statewide standards that will help stop pornographic content “and other obscene content in Texas public schools,” according to the letter.

Abbott did not name any specific books he found inappropriate.

Last week, the governor said “pornographic or obscene material” does not have a place in schools and argued that school boards have the responsibility to safeguard students from “inappropriate content.”

As those three entities work on writing regulations for the content, Abbott said Wednesday that “more immediate action is needed to protect Texas students.”

“We have a responsibility to ensure that no Texas child is exposed to pornography or obscene content while in a Texas public school, and your investigation will help accomplish this mission,” he wrote.

The Texas Education Agency is now assessing the letter, The Dallas Morning News reported.

“As anti-book banning advocates, we have seen politicians read from this script time and time again, invoking ‘pornography’ as an excuse to ban books that deal with sexual themes, that spotlight LGBTQ+ issues, or that include LGBTQ+ characters. What is less common—because it is so outrageous—is for these politicians to attempt to put librarians and teachers in jail for doing their jobs,” Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education at the nonprofit PEN America, said in a statement. “It is painfully obvious that this ‘investigation’ the governor calls for will be used to target teachers and librarians with potential criminal penalties for making diverse literature available to students.”

State Rep. Matt Krause (R) announced late last month that the Texas state House committee that oversees investigations is initiating a probe that will examine books in school libraries.

Krause, in a letter to the Texas Education Agency and unnamed school superintendents, asked education leaders to report the number of copies of hundreds of specific books they have in their libraries and how much money the districts put toward purchasing those copies.

Among the books on Krause’s list: “The Confessions of Nat Turner” by William Styron, “The Cider House Rules” by John Irving, “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy” and “Between the World and Me.”

—Updated at 3:28 p.m.

Tags Greg Abbott Pornography

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