Texas school district removes books deemed to be “inappropriate” from reading list

The Leander Independent School District in Texas announced that it would remove nine more books from its secondary school book club reading lists after a campaign from local community members, bringing the total number of titles removed to 15.

Key Players

The Leander Independent School District (LISD) encompasses approximately 200 square miles in the cities of Austin, Cedar Park, and Leander, Texas. The district serves about 42,000 students.

The Community Curriculum Advisory Committee (CCAC) is a group of LISD parents, teachers, principals, students, business leaders, and community members who advise the district on its curriculum, programs, and courses.

Further Details

At school board meetings during the fall of 2020, some parents argued that books should be pulled from reading lists if they contain sexual content, foul language, graphic images, or depictions of sexual assault, according to KUT, Austin’s NPR station.

In March 2021, LISD officials announced they had removed six books from classrooms after parents complained about Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir In the Dream House, according to KVUE, an ABC-affiliated television station in Austin. One part of the memoir details a sexual experience between two women with a sex toy.

The books removed from the list include The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel, by Margaret Atwood and Renee Nault; V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore; and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, by Mariko Tamaki.

“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,” LISD Superintendent Bruce Gearing said in a statement on March 8.

In May 2021, Machado wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times arguing that preventing children from reading books does not help them. “As anyone can tell you — as history can tell you — this is ultimately a fool’s errand. Ideas don’t disappear when they’re challenged; banned books have a funny way of enduring,” Machado wrote.

Along with various other authors — including Atwood and others whose books were struck from the list in March — Machado signed onto a letter organized by PEN America, an organization that protects the right to free expression, in opposition to the removal of the books.


LISD strikes more books from reading list, bringing total number of removed books to 15

In August 2021, the LISD announced it would remove or suspend nine more “inappropriate” books from its secondary school book club readings lists, according to PEN America. The books included Machado’s memoir; None of the Above, by I.W. Gregorio; Out of Darkness, by Ashley Hope Pérez; and Red at the Bone, by Jacqueline Woodson.

“This is a sad day for literature and for students’ freedom to learn,” Jonathan Friedman, the director of free expression and education at PEN America, said.

“Not only is the removal of these books harmful to the literary community as a whole, it also contributes to the further minimization of the issues that people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals face,” Friedman added, alluding to the fact that many of the removed books concern minority or queer experiences.

Six additional novels remained under review, according to Book Riot. As of Nov. 1, 2021, no conclusion had been reported.

Texas lawmaker initiates probe of school libraries’ books on race and sexuality

On Oct. 26, 2021, state Rep. Matt Krause (R), the chair of the Texas House General Investigating Committee, launched an investigation into several Texas school districts, including Leander, to see if their libraries were carrying certain books on a range of subjects, from human sexuality to systemic racism, according to the Houston Chronicle. In a letter sent to each district, more than 800 specific titles were listed for inquiry by Krause. 

Three days later, Matt Mitchell, a spokesperson for Leander, said, “We are still reviewing if and how to respond [to the letter],” according to the Austin American-Statesman.