Backlash Continues, Protest Planned Against Houston ISD Decision to Repurpose 28 School Libraries Into Discipline Centers

Opposition is mounting to the Houston superintendent's plan to eliminate librarian positions and repurpose libraries at 28 schools into discipline centers.

Texas school libraries are once again getting national attention, but this time, it is not about book bans. Last week, the Houston Independent School District (HISD)  announced that it would eliminate librarian positions at 28 schools and repurpose the libraries into centers for students with behavior and discipline issues. Librarians and their fellow educators from across the country took to social media to decry the decision.

American Library Association executive director Tracie D. Hall tweeted, "What do we say to our children and our children’s children if we are silent on this? How can we claim to want to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and not see its rubrics here?"

The Texas Library Association (TXLA) released a statement in strong opposition to the plan impacting the largest public school district in the state.

“School libraries have always been the center of the campus and vital places of learning and growth. To turn centers of learning into discipline centers sends the wrong message to students, parents and the community,” it read, in part. “The Texas Library Association and Texas Association of School Librarians (a TLA division) oppose dismantling effective school library programs and removing school librarians at schools that need those essential educators and services the most.

“If the objective of the NES plan is to provide targeted resources and support to improve outcomes for students at underperforming schools, retaining librarians and library programming is a solid, research-based strategy for accomplishing that goal.”

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) took over HISD in June and appointed a board of managers to replace the elected school board. The takeover came after “years of scrutiny of the district by the Texas Education Agency because of repeated low student performance at Phillis Wheatley High School and allegations of misconduct by previous trustees,” according to The Texas Tribune. Miles was appointed superintendent of the district at that time.

Librarians and educators are not the only people opposed to his plan.

Chasten Buttigieg, husband of Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, tweeted, “Students need role models, leadership, and books! This won’t work unless you view schools as detention centers instead of hubs for innovation and creativity. Texas students and librarians deserve better.”

On Monday, Houston mayor Sylvester Turner was joined by city council members, local pastors, and other state leaders.

"I don't want HISD schools to look like prisons," Turner said, according to an ABC13 report. "HISD is creating a school district of the 'haves' and the 'have-nots'. With some areas in the district equipped with libraries full of books and technology, while others will resemble stark institutions with no place to go to their school library, to study to check out a book, get the assistance of a librarian and expand their own imagination.”

Said one Houston pastor, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. These libraries are needed. The first book that I learned to read, from cover to cover, was checked out in the library."

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Turner’s mayoral opponent, tweeted, “I do not want anyone to believe the removal of school libraries is normal. It is not.”

In another X (Twitter) thread, she wrote, “I believe it is important to engage the TEA designated Superintendent and the board of managers and question the real sense of direction that would extinguish the curiosity that is generated by libraries and the ability of a child to visit a school library to read books.

“Further, redirecting these libraries to be disciplinary sites is even more offensive and questionable. Houston should be an education city, reaching out for funding from the federal and state governments to enhance learning, to generate curiosity, and to challenge students.

“One of the best ways to do that is to develop a love for books and reading. Nothing surpasses a child’s eagerness to read and experience the wonderment of the world that is open to a child who reads. I am looking forward to TEA finding another way.”

NAACP Houston president James Dixon issued a call to action and announced a protest for Saturday, August 5 at the district's central office to demand a policy reversal.

“Nelson Mandela stated that the clearest depiction of a nation’s character is seen in how it treats its children,” Dixon said, according to The Defender. “That needs to sink in deeply because what we are witnessing presently in HISD are actions towards our children that are beyond egregious.

“It is with great concern for our children that we, the Houston NAACP, along with our friends express our sharp disagreement with the decisions made by state-appointed HISD Superintendent Mike Miles. The thought of closing and repurposing libraries in schools is not only insulting, but it’s also repulsive. It reveals a measure of disrespect and disregard for our children’s need to have access to the best and most functional libraries and schools available. And that includes professional staff.”

For his part, MIles has accused the mayor of trying to politize the situation, refused to take the congresswoman's calls, according to Lee, and told community members who have questioned the decision that there will still be access to books and the librarians can take different roles elsewhere in the district.

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