Austin, TX – Texas Governor Greg Abbott has ordered the Texas Education Agency to investigate criminal activity in regards to “the availability of pornography in public schools,” according to the Texas Tribune.
The request comes after Abbott asked the state agency along with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and the State Board of Education to develop statewide standards in preventing “obscene content in Texas Schools.”
In a letter, Abbott wrote, “more immediate action is needed to protect Texas students” against that inappropriate content, which he said is “a clear violation” of state law.
The state does have the power to board the authority to the Texas education commissioner. According to the state’s education code, “the agency shall conduct hearings involving state school law” at the direction and under the supervision of the commissioner,” which could be interpreted by the TEA as the vehicle to use for investigating any criminal activity.
When asked about how this would be prosecuted, Shannon Edmonds, director of governmental relations for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, says it depends.
Under the state’s penal code, a person commits a crime if they knowingly exhibit or distribute harmful material to a minor, or display it in a reckless way where a minor is present. Harmful sexual material is defined as “patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable for minors.”
In his letter, Abbott cited two memoirs about LGBTQ characters that include graphic images and descriptions of sex, including “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe. The Keller Independent School District recently removed the book from one of its high school libraries after some parents raised concerns over the novel.
Abbott also mentioned “In the Dream House” by Carmen Maria Machado, which the governor said in his letter was recently removed from classrooms in the Leander Independent School District. That book is a memoir that examines an abusive relationship between two women.
Keller Independent School District is being investigated by the state over whether it gave students access to books with “sexually explicit content,” according to a letter sent to the district that was obtained by the Dallas Morning News.
The TEA is investigating whether the school district did correctly evaluate books permitted in its school libraries and whether or not this led to students having access to inappropriate content.
In early December, a nine-member committee in Canutillo Independent School District of El Paso County voted 8-1 to keep Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir” available for high schoolers to check out.
Officials from Keller ISD and the TEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment to the Texas Tribune.