(NEW YORK)— PEN America said today a decision to convert 28 school libraries in Houston into centers for students identified as “disruptive” is a “disturbing” development that robs students of the critical access to books, ideas and knowledge.

On Tuesday,  the state-appointed Houston ISD superintendent announced the elimination of librarians at 28 schools in the district identified as “high-priority, high-needs” campuses. Instead, the superintendent’s New Education System (NES) plan will convert libraries into multi-use spaces or “Team Centers” for students identified as disruptive. The same plan places cameras in the classroom to help administrators handle discipline and allow students pulled from class to participate in classroom instruction over Zoom.

Research demonstrates that students in schools with school libraries and professional librarians learn more, get better grades, and have higher standardized test scores than their peer students in schools without libraries.

“To remove libraries and librarians under the guise of “transformation” is shocking and disturbing,” said Kasey Meehan, Program Director for Freedom to Read at PEN America. “School libraries and librarians are incredible resources for students and educators. As efforts to ban books sweep the nation, the wholesale removal of libraries and librarians further impedes students’ access to knowledge and ideas. These schools predominantly serve students of color from economically disadvantaged communities, and this decision robs them of the truly transformational opportunity offered by access to fully resourced and staffed libraries, filled with books that represent the identities, cultures, languages, stories, and experiences that mirror and expand upon their own.”

The Houston school district has at least 85 libraries across the district.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057