We are writing to ensure that you are aware of recent legal developments regarding House Bill 900 (HB 900), otherwise known as “the book ban bill.”
HB 900 passed during the 88th Legislative Session and was signed by Governor Greg Abbott on June 13, 2023. The legislation creates a bureaucratic oversight system over school libraries that risks removing valuable books from your collections. A coalition of bookstores and bookseller associations filed suit (BookPeople, Inc. v. Wong) on July 25, claiming the law violated their constitutional rights. On August 31, U.S. District Judge Alan Albright signaled his intent to enjoin HB 900, and on September 18, the Court released a written order granting a preliminary injunction against most of the law, finding that “this law violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.” On September 25, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an administrative stay that may temporarily allow HB 900 to go into effect while the Court further considers whether a longer lasting stay would be appropriate while it deliberates on the merits of the case.
While BookPeople, Inc. v. Wong works its way through a long legal process, we urge you to refrain from taking unnecessary action, avoid unconstitutional book bans, and protect students’ freedom to read—and we stand ready to support you in following this guidance and any future guidance to the letter of the law.
HB 900 lays out a clear timeline for implementation, with most of the responsibilities falling on state agencies and book vendors. Districts should follow this timeline, should not attempt to rate books, and should not take preemptive action to remove books.
- By January 1, 2024, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) must establish mandatory collection development policies for all school libraries, with approval from the State Board of Education (SBOE).
- By April 1, 2024, book vendors must submit ratings to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) of all library materials previously sold to schools that are determined to be “sexually explicit” or “sexually relevant”, according to definitions in the statute. TEA will have the final authority over approving or revising ratings. Districts must remove all library materials rated “sexually explicit” under this provision.
HB 900 also requires vendors and TEA to submit an updated list by September 1 each year.
- By January 1, 2025, school districts and open-enrollment charter schools must complete their first collection review and report any materials in their library collections rated “sexually relevant” by vendors or TEA. Moving forward, districts and open-enrollment charter schools must complete this process by January 1 of each odd-numbered year.
Districts must require parental consent for students to reserve, check out, or otherwise use outside the library any material that has been rated “sexually relevant” by book vendors.
The law is clear that your school board, teachers, or librarians should not rate library materials, nor should they prematurely review collections or remove books until after ratings have been finalized and approved by TEA. It is vital that school districts adhere to this timeline and avoid violating students’ First Amendment rights.
In 1982, the Supreme Court held that “local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.” The Court further held that “the special characteristics of the school library make that environment especially appropriate for the recognition of the First Amendment rights of students.” Other federal courts have further clarified that school boards may not remove books solely due to content such as controversial treatment of racial issues, the presence of LGBTQ+ relationships, or the depiction of disobedience and disrespect for authority.
Following this legal precedent, HB 900 requires that the statewide collection development policy must prohibit “the removal of material based solely on the ideas contained in the material; or personal background of the author of the material; or characters in the material.” Your district’s school board, librarians, teachers, or staff should not purge materials based on this criteria.
We are particularly concerned about HB 900’s implementation given the national landscape of book bans. PEN America tracked 3,362 instances of school districts restricting or removing an individual book title in the 2022-2023 school year – an increase of 33 percent over the previous year. Disturbingly, PEN’s report also found clear trends in book bans, which disproportionately target books that discuss or feature student health and wellbeing, characters of color, and LGBTQ+ characters.
Districts have the responsibility to serve all students and provide instructional materials that reflect the breadth and depth of students’ lives. Removing library materials discourages reading and critical thinking, suggests that some students’ experiences do not belong in the classroom, prevents students from accessing lifesaving resources, and denies students opportunities to prepare for their futures. Your school libraries can support all students—especially those living in poverty, from marginalized communities, or living in unsupportive or abusive homes—by keeping these constitutionally-protected materials on the shelves.
We understand the chilling effect that legislation like HB 900 can have due to vague language, ongoing legal challenges, and unclear direction from state entities, and we stand ready to support you and your district. We ask that you refrain from premature book bans and support your students’ constitutional rights in your school libraries.
Children’s Defense Fund of Texas
ACLU of Texas
Asian Texans for Justice
Defense of Democracy
Ethnic Studies Network of Texas Core Organizing Team
Human Rights Campaign
FFRF Action Fund
Interfaith Alliance of Texas
Pastors for Texas Children
Students Engaged in Advancing Texas (SEAT)
Texas Freedom Network
Texas State Teachers Association
Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT)