The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is doing a better job at protecting children from exposure to harmful content than Texas Public Schools.
For the past year, parents across Texas have been sounding the alarm about the sexually explicit and inappropriate materials they are finding in schools.
But let’s be clear—while there is no better an advocate and protector than a parent, this is not a parental rights’ in education issue.
The state has a compelling interest to protect kids from the harmful content in Texas schools; the onus of responsibility here is on the state. And, thus far, those in charge of protecting kids from filthy library materials are doing a terrible job at correcting the local policy that has done almost nothing to correct the problem.
It’s a sad state of affairs when Texas children are safer tuning into television and radio airwaves than perusing their school libraries. This needs to change and we should use the guidance of the FCC to inform our legislation and our arguments for the state to implement mandated content standards for school library materials. Currently, there are none.
What the FCC recognizes—and what the Texas Education Agency has failed to in its own model Local EF policy—is that children are harmed by content that is indecent and profane, even when it doesn’t meet the most extreme definition of obscenity in our penal codes.
The FCC recognizes that children should be protected from Indecent Content and Profane Content, not just Obscene Content. It is a crime to distribute Obscene Content to minors. It’s all there in Texas Penal Code Chapter 43.24.
The FCC regulates the airwaves for obscene content, indecent content and profane content during the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Why? Because of a reasonable assumption that children might be present during those hours.
Texas school libraries are filled with books that meet the definition of indecent content and profane content—despite the fact that we know children are present. The FCC recognizes this to be harmful to children—so why are our Texas schools allowing it?
Many argue it violates a child’s freedom of speech to regulate content standards in the library. We know it doesn’t.
The laws that allow for regulation of content on our airwaves have been in place since the 1930s and have withstood the First Amendment challenges. There is much case law to cite from the Supreme Court of The United States.
We also know that books can be removed from libraries for pervasively vulgar content (Board of Education v. Pico), which encompasses indecent content and profane content.
There are big consequences when these FCC regulations are ignored. This is why the movie and music industries self-regulate, using explicit content warnings and rating systems. Currently, there are no consequences for distributing similar expressive materials in schools and libraries.
It is not a child’s right to access this material in their schools. It is not a violation of free speech to implement standards that protect children from obscene, indecent, or profane content in their schools or public libraries.
The FCC has very clear definitions of what obscene content, indecent content, and profane content is. We should use these to help inform local and state policy.
The FCC uses current penal code in its definition of obscene. Material must appeal to an average person’s prurient interest, depict or describe sexual conduct in a “patently offensive” and taken as a whole, it must lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
A good way to know if a library book in question breaks FCC standards related to obscenity, indecent content, or profane content is to try and read it aloud at a school board meeting that is being broadcasted. In seconds your mic will be cut off—they know it violates FCC standards.
Yet they continue to allow it in their schools.
In its model policy on library materials, the Texas Education Agency only advises that schools protect kids from the most extreme obscene content, which would violate the penal code and be considered criminal to distribute. Many school districts have adopted this policy.
But this policy is a failure. It is why the Legislature must act now to protect Texas kids from sexually explicit materials and inappropriate content in Texas schools.
The Republican Party of Texas is committed to supporting and driving legislation that protects kids from sexualization in our schools and communities.
Christin Bentley, M.S., represents Senate District 1 on the Senate Republican Executive Committee. She is a Tyler mom and an advocate for special needs students. The opinions expressed are hers.