In Greg Abbott’s Texas, there are a lot of things people can’t do. They can’t get an abortion after six weeks, even in cases of incest and rape. They can’t walk around town without worrying that someone will be carrying a gun without a background check, license, or training. They can’t remove a top official from office despite that top official allegedly abusing his position to help a friend*. They can’t expect that at least one of their senators won’t flee to Cancún during a state of emergency. And, according to recent events, they can’t teach middle school students about the Holocaust using an illustrated adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary—or, they can, but they’ll be fired for it. 

Yes, a teacher in Texas’s Hamshire-Fannett school district lost her job earlier this month for the apparent crime of incorporating Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation into an eighth-grade curriculum. The graphic novel—which has been called a “masterpiece” by Hadassah magazine and a “superb offering” by School Library Journal—was nevertheless deemed “inappropriate” by school officials. In an email to parents, the school district wrote: “It was brought to the administration’s attention tonight that 8th grade students were reading content that was not appropriate. The reading of that content will cease immediately. Your student’s teacher will communicate her apologies to you and your students soon, as she has expressed those apologies to us.”

Parents were also reportedly told that a sub had taken over the class and that the district “is currently in the process of posting the position to secure a high-quality, full-time teacher as quickly as possible.” According to KFDM, students were shown a section of the novel where Frank—who would be around the same age as they are—wrote about male and female body parts. While Frank’s original diary included references to sexuality, some reprints excluded them.

Despite claims by school officials that the adaptation had not been approved, KFDM notes that the book “was on a reading list sent to parents at the start of the school year,” so the district’s suggestion that the teacher “went rogue” seems…not true at all in the, y’know, actual sense of the word. A source close to the teacher told KFDM that the school’s principal had approved a syllabus that included the book. “There is an active investigation,” Mike Canizales, a spokesperson for the Hamshire-Fannett ISD, told the outlet.

If all of this sounds absurd to you, rest assured you’re not the only one! Speaking to The Guardian, Clay Robison, a spokesperson with the Texas State Teachers Association, said, “No teacher should be fired for teaching the diary of Anne Frank to middle school students. Teachers are dedicated to teaching the truth, the whole truth.” (To be clear, the work that got the teacher fired is not the original diary of Anne Frank but a graphic adaptation that, again, has received widespread praise and won numerous awards and honors, including Best Jewish Children’s Book of 2018.) Clay added to The Guardian that recent attempts to restrict what can and cannot be taught in the classroom represent are “a political attack on truth. It’s not a woke agenda. It’s not a liberal agenda. It’s a truth agenda.”

Last year, a Tennessee school board banned the Pulitzer Prize–winning Holocaust graphic novel Maus because it includes eight curse words like “damn” and contains (illustrated) “nakedness.” In April, PEN America reported that 1,477 books had been banned during the first half of the 2022-2023 school year—up 28% from the previous six months. Not surprisingly, Republican-controlled states have largely led the book-banning initiative, with Texas school districts recording the most removals during the period in question, followed by Florida and Missouri.

*Ken Paxton was acquitted in his impeachment trial and remains the subject of a federal investigation.

Bess Levin

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