At 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 2, when Assistant Principal Danny Guidry walked past the high school library in Granbury, Texas, he saw two figures moving in the darkened interior.
“There were flashing lights from the phones looking at some books,” he later reported in an email to the district office made public by a parent’s open records request.
Guidry entered and asked if he could be of assistance. He informed the two they were in a restricted part of the building.
“It was dark and difficult to see,” he wrote. “One of the ladies identified herself as Karen Lowery, Board Trustee.”
Lowery is indeed a member of the Granbury Independent School District board. Security video would show that she and another woman, Carolyn Reeves, had entered the library an hour and a half earlier, around 8 a.m., repeatedly switching the lights off when a motion detector turned them on.
Exactly what the two were doing there remains a mystery, and they have failed to respond to requests for comment, as has the school board, the school board president, and the school superintendent.
But Lowery has been on a crusade against supposed smut in school libraries. The school board president accused Lowery of lying to gain access to the library and declared that she had “never seen such a blatant breach of ethics in public schools.”
If Lowery was on a hunt for books with words or ideas that she doesn’t like, she has plenty of company. As The Daily Beast reported just a few days ago, a Republican politician’s wife in Arkansas has bragged of swapping out books in free little libraries for Bibles. Classic books have been banished from schools across the country and librarians who have protested have been publicly scorned or even fired.
In May of 2022, Lowery went so far as to file a criminal complaint alleging the high school was illegally harboring obscene books. County Constable Chad Jordan—who reportedly once urged all law enforcement officers to join the far-right extremist Oath Keepers and who is said to have enlisted Lowery to sign on as a complainant in the smut case—dispatched deputies to the library to commence an investigation that is described as “ongoing.”
Lowery then made the supposedly obscene books the focus of a successful campaign for the school board. She was elected in November and continued to raise the specter of smut sullying the shelves.
During a July 19 executive session of the board, a recording of which was obtained by The Daily Beast, Lowery gave some insight into just how far to the right she is when she spoke about a library website touting a book that won a Stonewall Award.
“Stonewall is a bar in New York,” she said. “We have opened the door for the evil to come through.”
She expressed concern that there was still what she considers smut in the high-school library, despite an exhaustive review by an independent committee. And she inquired of her fellow members if she had the right to “go into any library at any school at any time.” Board of Trustees President Barbara Herrington and District Superintendent Jeremy Glenn told her that she should first make an appointment with the principal of the particular school.
But Lowery does not seem to have made any such arrangement when she arrived at the high school on the morning in question, accompanied by Reeves. The clerk would report in an email that she told the people at the front desk that she and her companion were there to participate in a program to aid disadvantaged kids.
“I thanked both of them for volunteering for the day’s duties during the disbursement of Operation School Supplies,” a front-desk person would report in an email to the district office.
The clerk reported that Lowery displayed her school board ID. Reeves was given a visitor’s pass indicating she was authorized to be in the cafeteria, where various school board members, teachers, and parents were giving kids backpacks full of school supplies. There was also face-painting and free back-to-school haircuts.
Lowery and Reeves slipped into the darkened library, where they were confronted by Guidry. His report quotes Lowery saying, “I have been asked by the superintendent to come and look at some books.”
Guidry says that he asked them to “please exit as soon as possible” and that Lowery replied, “OK, thank you, it will be fine.”
But Reeves was not ready to just leave. She paused and asked what was inside a storage room.
“I informed her that was the storage room for computer carts and textbooks,” Guidry reported. “She continued to attempt to see in the room and open the storage room door, but it was locked and [the] window was blacked out.”
Board President Herrington subsequently viewed the video and the written statements by Guidry and the front-desk clerk. She conveyed her conclusions in an email to Lowery with the subject line: “Results of Investigation of Your UNauthorized Presence in Library.” Herrington reminded Lowery that she had been told at the July meeting that she needed to call a principal to make an appointment to go to any library. Herrington noted that district superintendent Glenn was at the school supplies event and could have given Lowery permission if she had actually gone to the cafeteria.
“Instead, you chose to violate every standard of ethics for school board members by using a very busy activity at the high school to enter the high school and misrepresent why you were there,” Herrington wrote.
“You were completely untruthful when the assistant principal confronted you and told him Dr. Glenn had asked you to come and look at some books,” Herrington noted.
Herrington made some observations regarding the video that added to the intrigue.
“When you left, in addition to your purse, you have a stack of papers in your hand that were not in your hand when you entered,” Herrignton wrote. “Would you care to explain that?”
Herrington further observed, “When you were leaving the library, you hesitated before entering the hallway, looked both ways and then stepped out into the hallway.”
The board president noted that Lowery had spoken of the importance of trust and transparency at the July 13 meeting.
“Your behaviors in this incident had neither built any trust nor were they evidence of transparency,” she wrote. “In my 33 years as public school educator, 10 years as an adjunct professor art Tarleton (State University) supervising interns in a master’s programs for school administrators, and more than 18 years on the GISD school board, I have never seen such a blatant breach of ethics in public schools.”
The letter and video and the various reports were made public after a parent named Adrienne Quinn Martin filed an open records request. Martin is one of the tiny minority of Democrats in Granbury, a deeply conservative town of 11,000 named after confederate general Hiram Broson Granbury. She sees the reaction of Herrington and other respected conservatives to the library incident as a sign that the antics of Karen Lowery, her school-board ally Melanie Graft, and others on the extreme far right are beginning to alienate those who are simply on the far right.
“They are starting to eat their young,” Martin said. “There’s a bunch of anti-Karens. This is the first time since this whole book thing has started that I’m seeing a portion of the public that’s not the Democrats going against these people. People are sick of ’em because they just caused so many problems. And… they’re hurting the schools. They’re hurting the staff, and they’re beating a dead horse and people are tired of it.”
Another parent, who describes himself as a “mid-range Republican” cognizant of the need for social programs, sees an irony in Lowery’s position.
“It’s very unbecoming of somebody with the title of trustee to go rogue and lie to get what she wants,” he said.
The parent, who asked not to be named, agreed with Martin that people have begun to weary of Lowery.
“Then there’s a small group of people who are trying to defend her,” he said. “They have not stopped talking about quote unquote pornography or smut in the library, and they just don’t wanna let it go.”
Lowery’s unexplained behavior is sure to be a major topic at the next school board meeting on Aug. 21.
“I’m suspecting it’s gonna be wild,” Martin said.