Fort Worth ISD releases list of books returning to library shelves after 9-month review

The Fort Worth Independent School District is returning about 76% of the books officials pulled from shelves in August for review of inappropriate content, newly released records show.

Of the 118 titles removed from shelves, 90 are returning to libraries. Fort Worth ISD’s release of the list on Wednesday through an open records request comes about two weeks after officials confirmed that the district’s audit of books for sexual or violent content was finished. The books are being returned “based on the decisions made regarding age/grade level appropriateness,” officials have said.

The more than 100 books have been in the district’s professional library and inaccessible to students since the beginning of the 2023-24 school year, when all school libraries were closed during the first two weeks of school for both inventory and removal processes.

Officials said at the time that a committee of master-certified librarians would be reviewing the titles, but an open records request to the district in February seeking meeting minutes from this committee came back with no responsive documents.

The Star-Telegram reached out to the district on Wednesday to ask when the books will be back on library shelves, what criteria determined which books were allowed to be returned, and what will happen to the remaining books that are not returning to shelves.

The school district pulled the books nine months ago as a new state law went into effect on Sept. 1, which required book vendors that sell books to schools to give a “sexually relevant” or “sexually explicit” rating to titles with sexual content, references or depictions. These two labels respectively determined whether a student would need parental permission to check out a book or whether the book would be banned from school libraries. The state criteria outlining these definitions had not been released when the law went into effect. Fort Worth ISD officials originally said the district’s book review process was prompted by the law but have since walked back that statement, stating its review had no connection to this law.

The law, which was House Bill 900, was struck down in January by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The full panel of judges on the same court doubled down on its ruling on April 16 in a split vote. The Texas Education Agency could further appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court with a July 15 deadline. TEA officials declined to comment to the Star-Telegram, citing ongoing legal matters.

Additionally, Fort Worth ISD officials have noted that the district’s book review was independent of direct challenges. The 118 titles were removed about two weeks after the Tarrant County chapter of Citizens Defending Freedom released its own list of more than 100 books it deemed to be inappropriate in Fort Worth ISD’s middle and high school libraries. The conservative nonprofit organization has been vocal in various states regarding book debates.

In July, before the full list of titles were removed in August, officials removed three books from elementary and middle school libraries after they were determined to be inappropriate: “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, “Flamer” by Mike Curato, and “Wait What? A Comic Book Guide to Relationships, Bodies, and Growing Up” by Heather Corinna. All three are among the titles returning to shelves.

The American Library Association found that “Gender Queer: A Memoir” and “Flamer” were among the top 10 most challenged books of 2023. Most of the books on the list had been removed by Fort Worth ISD, such as “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George Johnson and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky. These three titles are also on the list of books returning to district libraries. Almost half of the books targeted for book banning nationwide, according to the library association, included LGBTQ+ themes or included voices or experiences of people of color.

Here’s the full list of returning titles: