Chris Tackett is a parent, former School Board Trustee, and activist living in Fort Worth, TX. He recently moved from Granbury, TX where he has been seeking records related to the removal of books from public school libraries. This Q&A was taken from a recorded interview and has been edited for clarity.
Q: How did you first get involved with the issue of censorship in schools?
A: I’m a former school board trustee who served in Granbury ISD. So I’ve got a real passion for public education, supporting the kids, the teachers, and the community broadly. And in January got word that our district was pulling books off of the shelves, and it created a lot of concern for me and for my daughter, who was a senior in high school.
Q: Why were you so concerned when you heard that books were being removed?
A: In Texas, there was a list released by Texas House Representative Matt Krause and sent out to libraries around the state with a list of 750 books on it. A majority – literally around 60% – were books with LGBTQ+ themes. There was another large section [of books] that were about race and racism. There were things about sexual education in there. Representation matters. And so if that list was the basis for what Granbury was doing, we knew we needed to step up and push back against that because kids need to be represented.
Because of public information requests that I had filed, it came out that it was the books from [Rep. Krause’s] list that the district was evaluating. So it was exactly the kinds of things we were all worried about.
Q: Can you talk more about the process of requesting those public records?
A: The whole idea of public institutions is the public has a measure of transparency they should be able to gain into it. But a lot of times institutions – and not just Granbury ISD but others – won’t just volunteer that information.
So I went to the [Texas Attorney General’s] website, I grabbed the form provided, made sure I filled it out with exactly what I wanted, and submitted it to the district. I was able to find out not only what books they were reviewing, but [also received records of] emails that were going around ahead of the book reviews.
Because the district wasn’t necessarily forthcoming with those details, I did share them with the public. People need to know what was going on. And that’s the thing inside all of this: whether it’s my school district or districts around the state, and frankly around the country, they have a responsibility to be accountable to their communities. And sometimes a public information request is the only way we get that visibility so that we can hold them accountable.
Q: How has Democracy Forward been able to support you?
A: As I was originally going through the public information requests, I was asking for correspondence from the district – between the superintendent and the trustees – and was honestly stonewalled in a couple of spots specifically around text messages. I had tried and tried sixteen ways from Sunday to ask for that information in different ways, and they just weren’t giving me anything.
The team at Democracy Forward has helped write some additional public information requests, has leaned into the district, and has interfaced with the district’s attorneys trying to get information. It’s still this ongoing process, but the team at Democracy Forward has been great advocating for transparency.
And the thing is, it’s not just for what’s happening here. But the advocacy work impacts other districts because we’re not the only place that’s banning books. And the ideas of transparency are so important that even if we push and we don’t necessarily get the outcome we hoped for in this district, by pushing, we show a roadmap to other citizens [and] communities that this isn’t okay. And there are repercussions when you’re not accountable to your communities.
Q: What message do you want to share with parents or other folks who are facing the same challenges in their community?
A: Well, look, I mean, there are communities that are saying: “Hey, we’re not dealing with these challenges at all.” And they’re very lucky, because this is a movement that is going on across communities in Texas and across the country. And if you do see it start to happen in neighboring communities, you really need to take a look at what’s happening in your community and look for those rumblings.
Be aware of what’s happening at your school board meetings and who is coming and speaking and what they’re talking about. It is important [that] if you don’t like the direction things are going, you need to show up at your school board meeting. You need to start talking about it. And if you have to, file the public information requests so that you can help others understand what’s really going on.
Q: Why do you think there is so much focus on banning books in public schools?
Public schools are the foundation of our democracy. The vast majority of students across Texas and across the country attend public schools. And public schools are about so much more than just, you know, the three R’s: reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. It is about helping you move out into society and truly be successful, and our society doesn’t look at things one way. We’re not the same race, we’re not the same color, we’re not the same religion.
Public schools put everybody on that same playing field and help kids understand [that] differences are what make us stronger. And when you start taking books out of libraries, you start to remove that representation. Because kids will see the things that are themselves in those books. Kids who don’t feel that way but want a window into another world will read those books and understand things going on.
So when you start to subvert public education, and make educators afraid of trying to give kids these windows… it just starts to remove bricks out of the wall that holds up our democracy. These kids are going to be the ones leading our country in a very short number of years. We want them to be empathetic, to understand the differences, and be able to really connect with people no matter where they’re from – or what they’re about.