Lake Travis ISD pulls, will review book deemed sexually explicit

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Lake Travis Independent School District confirmed to KXAN it pulled a book from the libraries of two middle schools following at least one complaint.

“Lake Travis ISD received a call (unidentified) that there was material of a pornographic nature in our Hudson Bend Middle School library,” read an initial statement from the district.

After that statement, a district spokesperson told us the book was removed from Hudson Bend and Bee Cave Middle Schools. Its contents will be reviewed with respect to board policy.

“A district possesses significant discretion to determine the content of its school libraries,” said the spokesperson, citing school board policy. “A district must, however, exercise its discretion in a manner consistent with the First Amendment.”

He added: “A district shall not remove materials from a library for the purpose of denying students access to ideas with which the district disagrees. A district may remove materials, because they are pervasively vulgar or based solely upon the educational suitability of the books in question.”

It comes the night after a school board meeting where local mom and former Lake Travis ISD School Board candidate Kara Bell lambasted officials, reading a sexually explicit passage from the book. Because of the topic, you may consider this inappropriate for younger readers.

“I do not want my children to learn about anal sex in middle school,” said Bell, raising her voice to board members. In meeting video from the district’s website, you can hear Bell’s microphone get cut off and a smattering of applause from some crowd members after she finishes speaking.

The book is “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Pérez.

The book chronicles a love affair between an African American boy and a Mexican American girl against the backdrop of a horrific 1937 explosion in East Texas, which killed nearly 300 schoolchildren and teachers, according to an NBC News article published just after the book was released.

“I hope they are kind of hungry for stories from people on the margins of history,” Pérez told NBC News, when asked about what she hopes readers take away from the book. “That’s really what I was trying to do with ‘Out of Darkness’ in the way I approached the explosion. I knew a lot of the historical details, but I was also trying to tell stories that reflect the marginal experiences by the (African American and Mexican American) characters.”

Jonathan Friedman is with Pen America, a nonprofit organization that defends diversity, inclusion and free expression in literature. He says contending views about what students should learn in school are at a boiling point, with debates over the content of books becoming more heated.

In March, we told you several books from student-led book clubs at Leander Independent School District high schools were pulled following backlash from parents.

“Central Texas is one among many areas in the country that have become hotspots for these eruptions of local anger and disagreement,” said Friedman.

Friedman says many books with sexually explicit content have holistic value, teaching a diversity of viewpoints and exposing young people to the realities of the world.

“I think to pretend books that deal explicitly with sex or sexual assault are in some way a threat to young people are doing them a disservice,” he said. “This is about having access for young people to a wide variety of literature that people from different backgrounds are reflected in.”

Friedman added: “You have a small contingent in many cases of parents who decide that they disagree, and that they must know better than those who are in the classroom.”

KXAN spoke with Kara Bell on the phone Thursday, but she did not have time to interview. The district tells us it’s not clear how long a review of “Out of Darkness” would take.

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