Katy ISD’s Book Bans Alienate Students
Last year, I moved from Louisiana to Fort Bend County, the most “diverse” county in Texas, and as I got ready for my first day of school in a new city, I could not have been more excited. What I didn’t know was that even my safe space, the library, would be discriminatory.
Growing up, finding characters I was able to relate to empowered me to embrace my differences while also helping me feel more American, more seen. Take, for example, my freshman English class, where I read “The Joy Luck Club,” a story that delved into Asian-American heritage but also gender dynamics. The story helped me navigate my identity, and it made me feel like I wasn’t so alone — like I wasn’t so different.
But policies like book bans alienate students like me.
In the beginning of summer, I was appalled to hear that Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 900 into law, ousting “inappropriate” books from school libraries. How can students feel seen and understood when the law fails to acknowledge the importance of inclusive literature? These shortsighted policies claim that some stories — and some people — matter more than others, and some do not matter at all.
The recent book ban is an affront to education itself. It seems like our district has failed to realize this, and instead, opted to take HB 900 a step further. In June, Katy ISD started directing all new incoming books to a warehouse, where they would be judged before a “book reviewing committee,” going beyond even the initial book ban law. This policy has, in effect, introduced yet another layer of dreaded bureaucracy, holding every new book (not just controversial ones) a librarian offers up for hostage, ranging from “Magic Tree House” to “Captain Underpants.”
Moreover, the book review process is deeply flawed. No one knows who sits on the Katy ISD Book Review committee, nor the process in which they’re chosen. Worst of all, they do not take student input into account whatsoever– trust me, I’ve tried. Despite many senior students being 18 and expressing their desire to serve on the committee, the board has deemed these students immature and incapable of serving on the Book Reviewing Committee. We are old enough to purchase guns and fight for our country yet not old enough to decide what we read?
Logan McLean, a recent graduate of Cinco Ranch High School, claims the book ban debate is far past student protections.
“The fact about book bans is that students are the ones who are affected most by it. No one on those review committees will ever have that book taken away from them. Denying us the ability to be part of that process, a process that primarily affects us, sends a clear message that students are, in fact, not the ones being prioritized or protected in any way by this debate,” McLean says.
But take the committee with a grain of salt, because the district board can easily bypass it. In August, the Katy ISD board gave themselves the power to remove books from shelves if just two members agreed to pull the book. Our democracy relies on duly elected bodies representing the will of constituents, with transparency and accountability. Yet two board members can now essentially ban books on a whim. Their personal politics will dictate what tens of thousands of students can access and read. This silencing of ideas runs counter to notions of free speech and open discourse, both at the heart of democracy.
And if you think this is just Katy ISD, you’re wrong. Books have been flying off shelves at an alarming rate in Texas. “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, which depicts Kobabe’s journey of gender identity and sexual orientation, is amongst the most banned, along with “Roe v. Wade: A Woman’s Choice?” by Susan Dudley Gold and “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson.
Sofia Pueblos, another graduate of Cinco Ranch High School, notes, “what worries me is the likely possibility that [this] ignorance will lead to white supremacist mentality and worsen the racism problem that is already present in our schools.”
I understand the importance of safeguarding students from inappropriate content, like books with an overwhelming amount of graphic violence. But the censorship we are seeing is different. It’s harming students by preventing us from accessing important literature for growth and learning about harsh realities. Books are not just pages with words to us, they’re a representation of our identity, our experiences, and who we can strive to become. Take, for instance, “Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kaur — a book banned this month by Katy ISD. “Milk and Honey” was incredibly inspiring to me, capturing the life of a woman from childhood to adulthood through poems and illustrations. As a lost thirteen-year-old girl, I clung to Rupi Kaur’s words like a lifeline, seeing my own story reflected in its pages — the heartbreaks, the self-silencing, the struggle for self-worth. Through her poems, Kaur found the words I couldn’t muster. Her words taught me to embrace all of who I am with both courage and tenderness. Banning this collection silences the inner lives and personal growth of girls like me.
Tracy Jiang, a sophomore from Tompkins High School, felt the same way.
“[‘Milk and Honey’] had a profound impact on my life. It showed me I wasn’t alone and touched my heart by expressing unspoken emotions. ‘Milk and Honey’ encouraged me to confront my own feelings and to find solace in the procedure of healing,” Jiang said.
School is supposed to be about exposing students to new ideas and experiences. How else can they learn empathy or critical thinking skills? Katy ISD seems to have lost sight of its mission — to nurture curious, compassionate, open-minded young people.
My ultimate take is this: No school board, or committee, should have direct power over which books we can or can’t read without seriously considering student perspectives.
“Countless students and I have stood at a podium and asked for representation. We’re ready to be a part of the decision making — we just need them [the board members] to give us a seat at the table,” McLean said.