LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — Deanna Perkins has worked as an elementary school teacher in Leander ISD for 17 years. During her career, she said she’s always been an advocate for free speech and access to a wide variety of books for all her students.

In March 2021, she advocated in support of two books being challenged within the district: Nikki Grimes’ “Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir” and “None of the Above” by I.W. Gregorio. As of December, Gregorio’s book had been removed from classroom libraries and high school book clubs, and Grimes’ had been reinstated in classroom libraries.

She said she feared the precedent the move would set if students were denied access to books from historically underrepresented groups.

“This affected me personally as well — not as a teacher, because these were mostly high school books that were being targeted — but as a parent, and my daughter being a high schooler, that’s where it really affected me,” she said. “Because it was taking away choice for her and voices that she might not get exposure to on a regular basis, because it’s not her world.”

On Thursday night, Perkins will introduce Grimes and Gregorio in the virtual Banned Book Read-In, a conversation on free speech hosted by Red Wine & Blue’s Banned Book Busters. The event, beginning at 7 p.m., features community activists, authors of books that have been challenged across the country as well as singer Stella Parton, speaking on behalf of her sister’s Dolly’s Imagination Library.

This comes amid heightened focus on reading materials in ISD classrooms.

In an Oct. 25 letter to the Texas Education Agency obtained by the Texas Tribune, Texas Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, released a list of nearly 850 books he flagged for “inappropriate” content. In a November letter to the Texas Association of School Boards, Gov. Greg Abbott denounced books he said promoted “pornographic or obscene material to students.”

“I’m a teacher who sees what some of these kids go through on a daily basis and just knowing that who they are is being deemed as pornographic is so hurtful,” she said, later adding: “I feel like it’s important to see what these people have gone through whether they are Black, whether they are Mexican American, whether they are indigenous or LGBTQ, because a lot of us don’t know what they’ve gone through.”

Outside of the classroom, some students and local businesses are working to increase access to challenged books.

The Painted Porch Bookshop in Bastrop hosted a two-day Banned Bookmobile event in February to distribute free titles to customers, in partnership with audiobook company Scribd. Within Leander ISD, Perkins said she knows of at least two student-led book clubs centered around these books.

“For these kids that are wanting to read, it’s always going to be the best thing to do is to buy the books, support the authors, support the voices that need to be heard,” she said.