Book bans and school board elections

Michael Hardy:

Seventh-grader Jordan Banks loves playing video games and drawing cartoons. He dreams of going to art school, but instead his parents enroll him at preppy Riverdale Academy, where the most popular sport is lacrosse and everyone wears Vineyard Vines. At first, Jordan has trouble fitting in—he’s one of the few Black students at Riverdale, and teachers keep confusing him with other students of color—but he makes friends quickly. By the end of the year, he even has a girlfriend.

Banks is the protagonist of New Kid, a Newbery Medal–winning graphic novel by children’s author Jerry Craft that recently became an unlikely cynosure of controversy in the Katy Independent School District, which serves 90,000 students at 74 campuses in the suburbs west of Houston. This past fall, New Kid was removed from KISD libraries after a petition signed by around four hundred parents criticized it for “teaching children that their white privilege inherently comes with microaggressions which must be kept in check.” The district, regularly ranked among the best in the Houston area, also canceled a virtual speaking appearance by Craft, whom the petition accused of pushing critical race theory—an academic framework for studying persistent discrimination that is typically taught only in colleges and graduate schools. 

The petition was written by Bonnie Anderson, a mother of three KISD students who is running for an unpaid position on the district’s board of trustees in the nonpartisan May 7 election. In a recent interview with Texas Monthly, Anderson said that district libraries were rife with books pushing the “unscientific notion that people who are white are born with privilege because of the way, you know, society has been constructed.” Anderson also wants to ban many books that address LGBTQ issues, which she labels “pornography,” and eliminate the district’s few remaining pandemic-related health measures, which she has compared to Jim Crow–era segregation.