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Feds investigate Texas school district that banned LGBTQ books

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Photo by Shelby Tauber for ProPublica / Texas Tribune / NBC News
Photo by Shelby Tauber for ProPublica / Texas Tribune / NBC News

The US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is investigating a Texas school district after learning that its superintendent ordered school libraries to get rid of LGBTQ-themed books.

Federal education officials notified the Granbury Independent School District on December 6 that it had opened the investigation based on a July complaint from the ACLU, according to the Texas Tribune.

The ACLU complaint — based on a leaked recording of a meeting between Granbury's superintendent, Jeremy Glenn, and school librarians — charged the district with violating a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender.

The meeting was reportedly held in January, and the recording was first published by NBC News, ProPublica, and the Texas Tribune in March. The news venues say they have verified the authenticity of the tape.

Photo by Shelby Tauber for ProPublica / Texas Tribune / NBC News  

In the recording, Glenn instructed librarians to remove books dealing with sexual orientation and Transgender people.

"I acknowledge that there are men that think they're women and there are women that think they're men," Glenn told the librarians. "I don't have any issues with what people want to believe, but there's no place for it in our libraries."

Later in the meeting, Glenn clarified that he was specifically focused on removing books geared toward Queer students.

"It's the Transgender, LGBTQ and the sex — sexuality — in books," he said, according to the recording.

Glenn's comments were followed by the district's decision to remove dozens of library books pending a review. This fostered a "pervasively hostile" environment for LGBTQ students, the ACLU wrote in its complaint.

Chloe Kempf, an ACLU attorney, said the Education Department's decision to open the investigation into Granbury school district signals that the agency is concerned about what she described as "a wave" of anti-LGBTQ policies and book removals nationally.

"In this case it was made very clear, because the superintendent kind of said the quiet part out loud," Kempf said in an interview. "It's pretty clear that that kind of motivation is animating a lot of these policies nationwide.

"These comments, combined with the book removals, really send a message to LGBTQ students in the districts that: 'You don't belong here. Your existence is shameful. It should be censored,'" Kempf said.

An Education Department spokesperson confirmed the investigation and said it was related to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits schools from discriminating on the basis of sex, gender, and sexual orientation. The Office for Civil Rights doesn't comment on pending investigations, the spokesperson added.

If the investigation finds that violations of students' rights in Granbury schools occurred, the agency can require the district to make policy changes and submit to federal monitoring.

Education and legal experts contacted by the Texas Tribune said the federal investigation appears to be the first explicitly tied to the nationwide movement to ban school library books dealing with sexuality and gender.

Photo by Shelby Tauber for ProPublica / Texas Tribune / NBC News  

Lou Whiting, 17 years old, a nonbinary senior at Granbury High School, told the Texas Tribune that Glenn's recorded comments made them feel unsafe and unwelcome at school. Whiting, who helped organize student protests of the book removals, said they cried when they learned that the federal government had opened an investigation.

Whiting, seated next to their father, wipes away tears after speaking against book removals at a school board meeting — Photo by Shelby Tauber for ProPublica / Texas Tribune / NBC News  

"It's just really good to hear that there are people who are listening to us and actually doing something about it," Whiting said. "It means a lot to hear that our efforts meant something."