A Texas school district is apologizing to parents after books with inappropriate content including graphic sex scenes were assigned to teens as part of the reading curriculum.
Leander Independent School District north of Austin said it selected new reading materials last spring as part of a routine process of developing a new English Language Arts curriculum aligning to new state standards. Students are allowed to choose which book from the list they want to read and complete assignments on, but some parents said they were still caught off guard by the titles.
“We over-relied on written reviews and recommendations,” Leander ISD admitted in a statement apologizing for the mistake and describing what steps it is taking to remedy the situation.
The district appeared to cut corners during lockdown when teachers were working from home, choosing not to purchase the multiple copies of each title necessary to mail them to teachers, meaning teachers were not able to thoroughly read each book.
“Some books containing passages not suitable for students made it through this flawed vetting process,” Leander ISD said. “We acknowledge this breakdown in the process and apologize for selecting inappropriate literature for the assigned students’ ages.”
Some of the content and themes of the selections stunned parents, who launched a petition to remove the objectionable books and demand that parents be consulted before any similar material is assigned.
One of the books was the graphic novel My Friend Dahmer, whose author Derf Backderf went to high school with Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer who ate parts of his dead victims and had sex with them. The book describes Dahmer’s descent into serial killing.
Another book, Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez, which was on the ninth grade book club list, includes a scene describing a plan by a group of boys to gang rape a girl.
“Take her out back, we boys figured, then: hand on the titties; put it in her coin box; put it in her cornhole; grab a hold of that braid; rub that calico,” one passage reads.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, on the 12th-grade book club list, describes an abusive homosexual relationship between two women and includes extremely graphic sex scenes with BDSM themes and the use of sex toys as well as frequent foul language.
So far, Leander ISD officials said the district has pulled six titles from the book club reading list as a committee of more than 70 parents, teachers, and others vets all 140 new book club titles.
As of Wednesday, more than 4,000 people including many parents with children attending school in the district had signed the petition on Change.org to remove the inappropriate titles, close to the petition’s goal of 5,000 signees.
“Unfortunately, detrimental books have been delivered to minors without parental notification or consent,” the petition reads. “Some of it is outright harmful to minors by creating social and emotional problems in students where problems did not exist before.”
In the petition, parents made several requests, first that they be notified 30 days before mature themes of any kind are included in the assigned curricula and book lists and that they be given the chance to opt-in vs. opt-out. They also requested that book lists and curriculum materials be made easily accessible to parents and that those who developed the original problematic book list be barred from overseeing any additional review process. Parents also demanded that Leander ISD provide trauma-informed training to all teachers and school staff to educate them about the impact of exposing children with a history of trauma to sensitive subjects.
The parents also complained in the petition that the problematic books are not even helping their children become better readers, calling them “substandard in both content quality and academic rigor.”
One Leander ISD mother brought a pink sex toy to a February 25 board meeting to emphasize her objections to the graphic material in the books.
“This is what we’re asking our children to read,” said Lori Hines, pulling the sex toy out from her bag, according to KVUE.
“As a mother to three high schoolers here in Leander ISD (LISD), and as a teacher myself in LISD, I have been disgusted by the book choices in ELA [English Language Arts] this year in particular,” wrote petition signee Niki Heberling. “There haven’t been any classics or books with any moral compass of any sort whatsoever. … This is disgusting!”
Leander ISD said an upcoming policy banning the purchase of “inappropriate literature for the assigned students’ ages” will be up for final approval by the school board this summer.