Karine Jean-Pierre
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Parents Blame Conservative Cell Phone Company for School Book Bans

Banned books

Even though many of the titles passed the district's book challenge process, a school district in north Texas pulled dozens of books from its library shelves one day before the school year began. In response, concerned parents and educators are bringing attention to the conservative playbook implemented in Texas, which includes a cell phone company's mission to take over school boards.

Keller Independent School District principals were asked last minute to remove challenged books from classrooms and libraries on Tuesday, August 16. 

Among the 42 books removed are the Bible, a graphic adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, and Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe. 

Books were to be removed by Tuesday night before classes began on Wednesday, August 17. 

The district's curriculum director, Jennifer Price, sent an email that said in part, "Please collect these books and store them in a location. (book room, office, etc.)." 

When administrators decide whether to remove books from the district, a committee of parents, staff, and students reviews them.

School district members met last year and recommended that some books remain in student libraries. They are now being removed.

In a statement, the Keller school district tells The Advocate that administrators will review all books challenged during the past year after trustees adopt new policies on text removals and challenges.

"Right now, Keller ISD's administration is asking our campus staff and librarians to review books that were challenged last year to determine if they meet the requirements of the new policy," the spokesperson said.

"Books that meet the new guidelines will be returned to the libraries as soon as it is confirmed they comply with the new policy," the spokesperson added.

Laney Hawes is a concerned mother of four children who served on the committee to review Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation

She tells The Advocate what is happening is political overreach by several well-funded outside actors who have hijacked the school board. 

She protested the district's stance on Twitter in August, writing that principals removed the books partly because of "our extreme Christian nationalist school board" invalidating prior approvals for books after reviews to challenged books.

Just miles from the Southlake community made famous by NBC's podcast series, she says the culture war rages on.

"There's a giant push from this angry group of people who claim that children in public schools are being indoctrinated with 'woke liberal ideology,'" she says, "[supposedly] pushing on them [critical race theory] and the 'LGBTQ agenda' whatever that is. We hear it everywhere we go."

She explains that before issues with books came up, the school board was composed of "reasonable conservatives."

She says that all of the school board members would undoubtedly describe themselves as conservative but that their priority was to focus on providing an excellent public education. "They really had public education at heart," she tells The Advocate.

She says after the beginning of the global novel coronavirus pandemic, things changed drastically. 

"Suddenly, there was this big push against books in schools," she says. "[It started] with a few parents who got one of those 'look in your school library for these 800 books' lists, and if they're there, send your students in, check them out, bring them home and let everyone know how terrible the book was."

She points to the book Gender Queer as an example of one that got this treatment.

She says that the book was strategically chosen and outrage around it manufactured.

"It was the perfect book for them to pick as their first book because it has illustrations, which really helps their agenda of how terrible it is," she said sarcastically. "So they brought it in and lost their minds, and that was the beginning of what I would say was the end."

The Advocate spoke to parents who agreed that outside special interest groups were pushing against books in their communities. According to them, Patriot Mobile, a cellular phone carrier in Texas, is an arm of a Christian conservative political action committee. They say it's responsible for the hysteria.

Melissa Alexander-Blythe recently left Keller ISD. After three years of working as a literacy coach at Keller ISD and more than 18 years teaching English and composition, the seasoned educator tells The Advocate she had to leave the profession because of what is happening in schools like hers.

She says that over the last several years, issues crept up by parents who took issue with books in classrooms, despite "having every right" to have their child read a particular book.

"Parents made noise quietly," she says. "It wasn't a huge issue, although it was always books dealing with LGBTQ or race issues." 

She continued, "And then Southlake happened, and it's spread here, infecting Keller ISD. So essentially, we have a school board that radicals have taken over."

Gretchen Veling tells The Advocate she has two children who either have experience with or are in the Keller ISD. She says that a Christian nationalist candidate last year won a seat on the school board, and ever since, more like-minded people have been elected to the governing body.

She says Patriot Mobile, a Conservative Christian wireless provider, spent $400,000 on transphobic and homophobic flyers and Facebook ads to get preferred candidates elected. 

According to its website, "Patriot Mobile donates a portion of every dollar earned to support organizations that fight for First Amendment Religious Freedom and Freedom of Speech, Second Amendment Right to Bear Arms, Sanctity of Life and the needs of our Veterans and First Responders."

The district's seven-member board of trustees was joined by three newly elected conservative members endorsed by Christian political organizations.

"So we now have a school board in Keller that's four Christian nationalists supported by a PAC and three existing members on the board," she says.

The Texas-based wireless provider is tied to Patriot Mobile Action, a political action committee that spent big money to support conservatives in North Texas school board races this year, the Dallas Morning News reports.

Whereas in Florida, Texas, and other conservative-led states, using certain words or discussing topics is forbidden — in the Lone Star State, where everything is reportedly bigger — so too appears to be hypocrisy.

Under a state law passed in 2021, any public school in Texas must display signs with the words 'In God We Trust' if they are privately donated.

During an address to the neighboring Carroll ISD board on Monday, Patriot Mobile's chief marketing officer donated framed posters with the motto in white above the American flag, the Dallas Morning News reports.

"Patriot Mobile is here today to donate these beautiful 'In God We Trust' framed posters for each school," Scott Coburn said. "A full 15 percent of Patriot Mobile's employees live here in Southlake. We live here. Our kids attend school here."

Alexander-Blythe says it's clear that what's happening is a setup for the privatization of schools.

"They're trying to set the system up to fail," she says. "First you get the teachers to quit because they're being policed, then you blame the failing schools and push people into private Christian schools where there's no oversight into the curriculum."

She adds, "and if you can erase a bunch of LGBTQ and Black kids while you're at it, you've done something right in their eyes."

The Advocate reached out to Patriot Mobile to ask about the company's involvement in political activities involving Texas school boards, but did not receive a response.

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