On Tuesday, January 24, 2023, the Spring Branch Independent School District banned the book The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person from middle school libraries and restricted access to it at the high school level. This vote took place at a meeting at 1PM on a Tuesday afternoon that had been announced just five days earlier.
The issue here is racism and book banning, but it is also a story of voter suppression.
Spring Branch ISD is in the northwestern part of Houston, split by Interstate 10. Six of the seven Spring Branch ISD board members live south of I-10, in the wealthier part of the district. Of the 13 schools south of I-10, 11 have an “A” rating. Only one member of the board lives in the poorer part of the district north of I-10. Of the 22 schools north of I-10, only 1 has an “A” rating. 15 have “C” ratings. The majority of school board members, zoned to well-off schools south of I-10, have no reason to fight for the schools and students in the poorer area of the district.
The election for the school board, held on a Tuesday in May, drew low turnout across the district, but especially in the areas north of I-10. In that election, only one early voting location was in the area north of I-10. Multiple locations were available for voters living south of I-10. It is no wonder that the area north of I-10 has little representation on the board.
This leads to the results seen on January 24. Normally, school board meetings are held at 6PM so that working parents can attend. In this case, the meeting was called with short notice for the middle of a workday. This ensured that only affluent people could attend. The reason for scheduling the meeting like that was to prevent a huge protest against banning a book. The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person was ruled acceptable for middle and high school students by a committee of 7 made of teachers, librarians, and district administrators. A second review was done by upper administration, who also found the book to be fine. There was no reason to remove the book except for the fact that it made some white parents uncomfortable, and just telling their own kids not to read it was not enough control for them. Four of the board members from the whiter, wealthier part of the school district agreed with those parents, and not the education experts. Based only on some people’s feelings, the book was banned.
With more members on the board from north of I-10, the outcome of this story, and the resources allocated to the schools in the district, would look different.
Trustee Positions 1 and 2 will be on the Spring Branch ISD ballot on May 6, 2023. If you live in Spring Branch ISD, make sure you vote in that election, especially if you live north of I-10. If not, make sure anyone you know living in the district knows about the election, and is registered to vote by April 6. Also check for a local election where you live. Most people forget about May elections because they are not advertised, but as you can see, not voting in them leads to bad outcomes.
Written By: Noelle Steber, Pure Justice Member