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In Some School Districts, Parent Complaints Over Books Were More Bark Than Bite

The discussion about what books should appear in local school libraries seemed to be omnipresent. But did anyone actually go through the formal process to complain?
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Courtesy of Dallas ISD

Despite plenty discussion at school board meetings, in news coverage, and on social media, how many parents actually went through the formal process to object to specific books in their child’s school library?

We asked three school districts to provide all parent objections submitted for books for the 2021-2022 school year, and this school year so far. At least in Dallas ISD, Richardson ISD, and Highland Park ISD, it seems like all the bluster had little correlation with how many formally objected to a book through their district’s review process.

Dallas ISD—the second largest in the state—provided one parent request, submitted July 19, 2022, For Girl Haven by Lilah Sturges. The parent objected because it discusses LGBTQ+ children and (among other objections) serves as an “introduction to sexual confusion,” and preys “on vulnerable children at school without parental knowledge.”

Richardson ISD provided one request as well, dated February 10, 2021, for a book called When Aidan Became a Brother, written by Kyle Lukoff. The objection was that the book discusses a child born a girl coming out as transgender, and it was written for readers ages 3-7. In its place, the parents suggested the books Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz, How to be a Lion by Ed Vere, I Am a Cat by Gaila Bernstein, or One of a Kind by Chris Gorman.

Highland Park ISD had three requests, including an undated objection to Girl Haven. Two requests, dated September 1, 2021 and August 22, 2021, pertained to teacher-provided reading lists for classwork. Parents objected to their children reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Columbine by Dave Cullen, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.

Interestingly, both objections to Girl Haven contain the exact same language and cite the same excerpts.

Granted, three districts is a small sampling. But the discussion around books that some said contained pornography, were inappropriate for children, or contained aspects of critical race theory seemed like it was a juggernaut of opposition. It drove some to run for school board, had a hand in the resignation of Richardson’s superintendent, and even shaped legislation at the state level after a parent held up a book about White privilege at a school board meeting and claimed it was being taught in HPISD.

On a national level, the American Library Association said in an April report that 44 percent of their 729 challenges to 1,597 books for the 2020-2021 school year involved school libraries, with parents being the largest generator of complaints, at 34 percent.

Over the summer, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas Education Agency to provide more guidance to school boards regarding books he deemed “pornography.” State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, created a list of 849 books and sent letters to several school districts, demanding to know if their libraries contained them. The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom pointed out that many of those books “addressed the experiences of Black and LGBTQIA+ people.”

An August report by the Houston Chronicle found that, in Texas, the discussion about removing books in the state was driven more by politicians than parents. The paper sent public information act requests to nearly 600 school districts in the state, accounting for nearly 90 percent of the state’s public school students. At least 880 unique titles were the subject of more than 2,000 reviews since 2018, and at least 1,740 of those reviews were in the 2021-2022 school year. 

Around 12 districts accounted for more than 1,500 of the book reviews, and most of those books are still on library shelves. In North Texas, Birdville ISD, Keller ISD, and Princeton ISD had the most book bans at 11, 17, and 43, respectively. Statewide, North East ISD had the most books reviewed at 431, and the most books banned at 119.

Most of the books reviewed had LGBTQIA+ characters or issues, with the next biggest set of objections coming about books with main characters that were not White, or that looked at issues surrounding race.

Author

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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