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Read-in protest held in rotunda of Texas Capitol in opposition to book-banning policies

A few dozen people gathered in the rotunda of the Texas State Capitol to speak out against the banning of certain books in Texas schools.

AUSTIN, Texas — A coalition protesting book censorship in Texas public schools held a "read-in" in the Capitol rotunda on Tuesday morning.

The "Teach the Truth Coalition" held the protest during the House Public Education Committee's hearing which, in part, focused on “monitoring and analyzing the state policy on curriculum and instructional materials used in public schools.” 

A few dozen people took part in the protest, including teachers, parents and students. They shared their concerns over book banning, which has been seen in some school districts across Texas following the direction of state leaders. Multiple speakers at the protest shared that they believe these types of policies block access to honest and accurate education.

After the speakers at the protest shared their perspectives, including a current Round Rock ISD teacher and a former Austin ISD teacher, everyone sat and read banned books in the rotunda for about 15 minutes.

The former Austin ISD teacher said that with many of the books being banned in Texas having a focus on race and LGBT issues, the State is depriving kids of hearing different perspectives they may relate to.

“We’re essentially telling them that they don't matter, that if you're not straight, there's something wrong with you,” said Yulissa Chavez, a former AISD history teacher. “And I think that's horrible. I think that's absolutely horrendous. We should encourage our students to explore their identities and ask questions that, you know, they may not know, obviously, since they're children. How are they supposed to navigate a world where they're not welcome to navigate it? It doesn't make sense.”

KVUE also spoke with a 16-year-old Austin ISD student from Anderson High School who was at the protest. Austin ISD is not one of the districts that has banned books. The student said that the opposite actually happened in her school, as they started doing “banned book units,” where students read banned books. She wishes other schools would do this as well.

“I think that it's really important that students have access to books, any sort of books that tell every story, every perspective,” said Shayna Levy, an Anderson High School Student. “And I think that book banning is not good for any reason. And I think that it just kind of takes away from the knowledge the students can have.”

State Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock), who is a member of the House Public Education Committee, was among those participating in the read-in.

Over the past year, some lawmakers and public officials have increased attempts to restrict reading material in states across the U.S., including Texas.

In October 2021, State Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) initiated an inquiry into certain books and their availability in Texas public school districts. Six of the books on Krause's list were among the American Library Association's top 10 most challenged books of 2021.

Shortly after Krause initiated the inquiry, Gov. Greg Abbott asked the Texas Association of School Boards to determine the extent to which "pornography or other inappropriate content" exists in Texas public schools and to remove it if found.

In December, Williamson County commissioners initially withheld CARES Act funding from Leander and Round Rock ISDs because of certain reading material available to students that was deemed inappropriate. The commissioners later approved funding for the districts.

Also in December, the Llano County Library temporarily shut down for several days as a group of librarians conducted a "thorough review" of every children's book in the library, at the behest of the Llano County Commissioners Court. The librarians were checking to make sure all of the reading material for younger readers included subjects that were age-appropriate. 

Months later, Llano County residents sued county officials and library leaders for restricting and banning books.

In February 2022, KVUE reported that a group of students at Vandegrift High School in Leander ISD had formed a "Banned Book Club." That same month, a Bastrop independent book store hosted a banned book giveaway. Students across Texas have continued to push back against book bans.

In June 2022, KVUE reported that the Austin Public Library and BookPeople have partnered to host "Banned Camp," a series of summer events involving reading and discussing banned books.

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