LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — Several books being read in student-led book clubs in Leander ISD high schools have been pulled from the shelves for a deeper review following continued parent protests.
The non-mandatory readings, which contain highly descriptive and sexually suggestive text, were offered as options within a larger list for book clubs to choose from.
District leaders say they were aiming for a wide range of diversity-of-thought for all reading levels, but admitted that some books were not thoroughly vetted as closely as they normally would be, partially due to restraints from the pandemic.
“Books were chosen during curriculum design work during the spring/summer of 2020,” an email to KXAN reads. “Teachers, librarians, district administrators, and vendors recommended titles to be considered. Because the work in 2020 could not happen in person due to the pandemic, the team relied heavily on recommendations and online book reviews.”
A recording from a recent Leander ISD school board meeting went viral after a woman, speaking during public comment, removed a silicone sex toy from her belongings and dropped it on the table, saying to the board, “this is what we are asking our children to read.”
The woman was reading directly from one of the books being offered, “In the Dream House,” a memoir by Carmen Maria Machado.
“No one is asking to ban books. We are asking for age-appropriate reading material that advances independent thought and critical thinking,” the woman said.
Other parents agree saying the books contain graphic descriptions of rape, masturbation and assault. The material in question relates to at least four books which parents are likening to pornography.
One Leander ISD mom, who asked to only be identified as Stacy, called the books obscene. She said she would like parents to be more involved in the book selection process. She suggested the concepts being read might influence teenagers to do things they hadn’t previously considered.
“These books are way more graphic and disgusting than a lot of movies that are out, even at this time,” Stacy said. “For some, it might bring ideas of things they might want to do that they didn’t’ want to do before that are inappropriate.”
KXAN reached out to the author of “In the Dream House.” Machado said she was aware of the viral moment after someone had shared a Tik Tok recording on Twitter to her. She defended her work and the themes students are discussing in their book clubs.
A true story, Machado recounted to KXAN her own personal struggles of being in an abusive, lesbian relationship. A victim of domestic violence in here early 20’s, Machado hopes her experience will expose students, in a healthy way, to the perils of sexual assault and abuse.
“I really wish that we would teach relationship education and relationship skills alongside sexual education because a lot of young people come into relationships not having any sense of what is considered normal or healthy,” Machado said.
An author of three published works, Machado said she doesn’t write for a target age or demographic, but rather writes for herself. Even still, she says she is constantly approached by others who share with her the power her personal stories have and how it has impacted them.
“You cannot prevent your children from being gay. You can’t prevent your children from being in relationships. You cannot prevent your children from going out into the world and living the life they want to live,” Machado said. “I would hope that [parents] would value their kids and their kids lives, health and safety over their squeamishness.”
Leander ISD said students and parents are always allowed to work with their teacher to choose an alternate text. A community Curriculum Advisory Committee is also vetting student-choice book club selections. The district is encouraging parents and community volunteers to join and vet the next selection sometime after Spring Break.