GRAPEVINE, Texas — Anyone who thinks students are not watching the rowdy meetings or listening to the heated debates happening at the highest levels of their school districts needs to meet Tommy Rogers.
He says students see it all and hear it all.
Some of them fear it.
And some of them act.
“Books mean everything to me, and I can’t stand the thought of that being taken away from me or other students,” Rogers said.
Rogers is a 16-year-old junior at Grapevine High School in Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District (GCISD).
With school administration approval, he just founded the "Challenging Themes Book Club" at Grapevine High.
He and other club members are reading some of the books his board of trustees have banned.
GCISD endured a school board meeting that lasted almost eight hours in August.
At that meeting, trustees approved new guidelines governing pronouns, bathrooms and books.
Out of 197 people who signed up to speak at that meeting, Rogers was speaker number 153.
“You try and fit people in boxes they don’t fit in because people who are different scare you,” he told the board. “I don’t care if you live in a world of ignorance, but don’t force it on the next generation.”
After that meeting, Rogers went to work on his idea.
He found a teacher willing to act as a monitor and then filed all the proper paperwork to start a club.
Rogers says school administrators called him in for a meeting before they signed off on his plan.
Once he had their approval, the Challenging Themes Book Club became official.
The club meets twice a month after school hours on campus.
They work off a list of books Rogers curated.
“It isn’t purely drawn from books that are being pulled from our schools because I think there are books that are equally important that haven’t been pulled,” he explained.
At each meeting they discuss what they’ve read and choose a book for the next meeting.
Many of the books they read have themes that have been challenged -- like sexual assault, racism and homosexuality.
Rogers says removing those topics from high school shelves is an attempt to sanitize reality.
“They’re trying to restrict our educations, and they’re trying to pretend that some of my friends -- the queer students -- don’t exist. And they’re trying to pretend the world is a very different place than it really is,” he said. “I don’t want my fellow students to be blinded by that.”
Rogers shares concerns about material being accessible only to appropriate age groups.
“I don’t think elementary schoolers or young children should be reading explicit scenes or explicit content, but I think it’s ridiculous to think high schoolers can’t handle themes of racism or sexual violence,” he said.
“They’re trying to sanitize us from homosexuality. They’re trying to sanitize us from what people are. And that’s ridiculous.”
So far, Rogers says no one has pushed back against him.
Members of the group “GCISD Parents,” which supports the recent policy changes, said Rogers’ club is “proof that the policy is performing as intended and that with parental consent, students are allowed access to books with controversial themes.”
“We appreciate our board of trustees passing this policy and are pleased that Tommy Rogers was able to work within the confines of the policy to share his love of reading with other Grapevine High School students,” the group said in a statement.