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Leander ISD says it removed 6 books from reading lists, drafting new policy regarding 'inappropriate' books

LISD plans to create a new policy banning "inappropriate literature" after a controversy from a book that describes a sex scene between two women with a sex toy.

AUSTIN, Texas — Editor's note: This story contains graphic language and content. Viewer discretion is advised.

Leander ISD officials said it removed six books from being in classrooms after parents complained about a certain book on a student book club reading list. LISD said its administrators are also working on drafting a policy banning buying "inappropriate literature for the assigned students' ages." 

LISD said the policy language will go to the board for final approval this summer. The board will discuss instructional materials selection and the local policy process at their March 25 meeting, according to the school district.

"I'm kind of confused at why there's a controversy," said Stephanie Bercu, a Leander ISD parent. "I am mad that other parents are trying to take away my child's choice. Whether or not I want to allow my kid to read that book is up to me, but nobody else has the right to remove a choice from my kid without going through proper procedures."

Bercu said the school district's book club lists shouldn't be a problem because it's a choice. Normally, a student can pick one book that interests them from a list of 15 each semester, but some parents have an issue with content in the memoir "In the Dream House" by Carmen Maria Machado. 

In a Feb. 25 board meeting, LISD parent Lori Hines brought in a sex toy to make a point. 

"This is what we're asking our children to read," she said as she brought out the pink sex toy from her bag. 

Hines continued to read an excerpt from the book that describes a sexual experience between two women with a sex toy involved. Hines said it's inappropriate and even constitutes child abuse if read by a minor.

(Depicted below is the excerpt from In the Dream House which was read by Hines at the board meeting. Warning: Some may find the language disturbing):

Credit: In the Dream House
Excerpt from In the Dream House read at Leander ISD board meeting calling for change to policy regarding "inappropriate books."

"No one is asking to ban books. We are asking for age appropriate reading material that advances independent thought and critical thinking," said Hines in the board meeting. 

The award-winning author of In the Dream House, Machadoresponded on Twitter and said the LISD parent's view on her book is completely messed up. In the Dream House's summary said it's about a relationship gone bad and "Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming."

LISD said they've stopped each student book club unit until they finished the review of all 15 books in each unit. District officials said they finished reviewing two units and teachers will not teach a student book club unit with books the committee has not reviewed. 

"For the past few months, we have been listening to our parents and rectifying our mistakes concerning the selection of books in our high school English Language Arts (ELA) classrooms for the student book club units. We would like to address community concerns, take ownership of our mistakes, and clear up misinformation as we continue to repair trust," said Leander ISD Superintendent Bruce Gearing, Ed.D., in a statement on Monday. "We acknowledge there was a breakdown in our process as we selected reading material for our student book clubs where students self-select titles from a book club list. We first outlined and addressed this issue and our action steps at our Nov. 5, 2020, Board of Trustees meeting."

Gearing said they asked the Community Curriculum Advisory Committee (CCAC) to vet all high school English Language Arts student choice book club selections. More than 70 parents, educators, and additional campus representatives including counselors, librarians, instructional coaches, principals/assistant principals are engaged in the vetting process together. 

The CCAC is vetting all 140 book club titles they added to existing collections, by grade level and unit of study, throughout the fall and spring semester. As of March 8, LISD said it had completed 30 books to date. 

"This process has been longer than we all would have preferred but has been vital to give proper attention to a serious matter of balancing the needs of our students and the materials we provide. We take seriously our partnership with our parents and guardians to educate our learners and we appreciate your diligence as we lead our learners to a brighter future," said Gearing. 

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