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Leander ISD's Reading Lists Get Reviewed After Parents Complain Of Offensive Content

A bunch of books from a reading list for Leander ISD
Photo illustration by Michael Minasi

Leander Independent School District has faced an unprecedented year of figuring out virtual learning, COVID-19 safety protocols and masked extracurriculars. But an age-old question has taken center stage: What books are appropriate for students to read?

After backlash from parents in the fall, the district pulled six books from student "book clubs": The Handmaid's Tale: The Graphic Novel by Margaret Atwood and Renee Nault; V for Vendetta by Alan Moore; Y: The Last Man Book One by Brian K. Vaughan; Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw; Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki; and Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery": The Authorized Graphic Adaptation by Myles Hyman.

Here are some of the factors at play in the controversy.

Book Clubs

Each semester, the Leander ISD English curriculum has students break into "book clubs." Students select one book from a list of around 15 to read and discuss with their teachers and peers.

Students are not required to read any particular book. They can also ask to choose a book that's not on the list.

But a group of parents spoke out against the book clubs earlier in the school year, arguing the lists include books with content that is inappropriate for students. Others argued it should be up to educators to decide what students can read, not parents.

Parent Involvement

At school board meetings last fall, the parents argued some books should be pulled because they contain sexual content, depictions of sexual assault, foul language and graphic images. They also argued some of the books are not challenging enough for high schoolers.

The parents said the district should give a more detailed description about each book and the curriculum.

But another group of parents argued the titles offered a diversity in voices and experiences. They said that by removing them, the district was censoring the curriculum and going against school policy by allowing parents to weigh in on the selection.

District Response

The books were selected at the beginning of the school year, in line with standards agreed upon by the State Board of Education and the Texas Education Agency.

The group that selected the books included teachers, librarians and curriculum specialists.

But after the backlash, the district pulled the books from the reading lists, paused the book clubs and tasked a different group with vetting the selection. This group — the Community Curriculum Advisory Committee — is made up of staff, parents and community members.

The CCAC has been reviewing the books a handful at a time. With each handful, or "cycle," members decide which books are appropriate and pass that information on to district officials.

So far, six cycles have been completed, but not all the findings have been published. The CCAC is posting its findings here.

As the review is underway, the district said, staff continues “encouraging independent reading by offering choices encompassing a variety of topics, voices and cultures.”

The CCAC's review is expected to be completed by the end of the school year.

The district's policy is also under review. It's unclear whether there will be changes in how books are selected next school year.

Allyson Ortegon is a former Williamson County reporter for KUT.
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