Concerns about the content of instructional materials that surfaced in 2021 will continue to be a topic of discussion in Texas and nationally in 2022.  Last week, Governor Abbott proposed a “Parental Bill of Rights,” which would be in addition to Chapter 26 of the  Texas Education Code which already includes specific parental rights. Texas is one of 35 states that have introduced or passed legislation or taken other actions related to concerns about the teaching of critical race theory in public schools, according to Education Week. Fourteen states have signed bills into law or approved other state-level actions, including Texas, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. In sixteen other states, bills have been proposed or are currently working through the legislative process. In five states, a bill has been vetoed, overturned, or has stalled in the legislative process. These five states are Maine, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

School districts’ policies govern their responses to community concerns about instructional materials. In a recent article in the Denton Record-Chronicle, Chief Communications Officer Julie Zwahr explained the district’s approach, noting that parents have the right to review instructional materials, library books, and even tests given to their children. Their policy for review of materials has been in place since 2002 and requires the district to consider concerns from district residents or employees as well as from parents. A “reconsideration committee” will review any content that is challenged and make a recommendation. This review process also extends to digital materials.

A majority of educators believe that parents should be “somewhat” or “very involved” in the selection of curriculum materials, according to a nationally representative survey of district leaders, campus leaders and teachers conducted this fall by the EdWeek Research Center. In the survey, 63% of educators affirmed the importance of parent involvement, compared to 21% who responded that parents should be “somewhat involved” and 16% who responded that parents should be “very uninvolved.” A majority of educators also believed that students should be taught about issues such as race and racism, climate change, sexuality including LGBTQ issues, and anti-Semitism in a grade-level and age-appropriate way. See the complete data at this link.

Instructional materials companies are responding to content concerns about critical race theory or sensitive topics in reading materials. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt provides high school teachers with recommendations for teaching controversial content in this blog post by author Dr. Erin Fouberg. Another company, BrainPOP, whose instructional software is used in about 500 districts across the state, has released updated Content Management tools that empower users to more easily manage the topics that students and teachers can access. Potentially sensitive topics are flagged, and administrators can define grade-level access to the content that’s age-appropriate for each grade and school. The “Teacher View” allows teachers to ensure that students only view approved content. Not all parents will agree on the appropriateness of certain topics, and community standards differ across the state—what’s considered appropriate in an urban, highly diverse district may not align with parental expectations in a more rural or suburban area. By adhering to rigorous content development principles but allowing districts the ability to customize, BrainPOP is striving to be a responsive partner to districts. Their extensive advisory board ensures the accuracy of their content, which is aligned to TEKS and has been reviewed by Learning List.

Publishers and developers of instructional resources should be made aware of community concerns so that they can review their materials and take the appropriate actions. Working in partnership, school districts and instructional resource providers can ensure that resources support student learning and expand their awareness, while still meeting community standards.