More than 1,500 parents have signed a petition by Texas mothers calling their school board to remove 90 “pornographic books” from children’s library shelves in the Keller Independent School District.
The petitioners also demand parental involvement in the process for reviewing the titles that include Ashley Hope Pérez’s “Out of Darkness” (2015) – a book the Lake Travis ISD previously pulled from two Austin middle schools in September – and L.C. Rosen’s “Jack of Hearts” (2018) due to their graphic descriptions of sex acts.
“This is not an issue of censorship or speaking out against the LGBT community, but about keeping pornographic materials out of our schools,” Christine Molloy, a mother of three, told The Washington Times on Wednesday.
A group of 15 mothers from the Keller ISD, which enrolls more than 35,000 students in the suburban town north of Fort Worth, used the district’s online search engine to compile the list of books.
“We assigned the books out for different moms to start reading them,” Mrs. Molloy said, adding that about 50 parents plan to present their list at the regular school board meeting next Monday.
The Keller ISD has attempted to respond to the mothers’ concerns.
In late October the school district removed Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel “Gender Queer: A Memoir” (2019), which contains full-color illustrations of teenage boys performing oral sex on each other.
Then the mothers demanded the removal of more titles.
While the mothers were “happy” that the district removed “Gender Queer,” petition organizer Kathy May complained Wednesday that “Out of Darkness” and “Jack of Hearts” currently remain on shelves while a review committee of school officials examines them.
“We want a new policy that requires parental involvement in the review process,” Mrs. May told The Times. “Otherwise, the people who review the books are the same teachers and administrators who brought them to the shelves.”
Contacted Wednesday for comment on the petition, a Keller ISD spokeswoman referred The Times to an Oct. 27 statement about removing “Gender Queer” after Mrs. May complained about it.
The statement emailed to parents says the district was “aware of a report on social media about a book in one of our libraries that contained inappropriate images” and that “one copy of the book in question was once available at a single high school library.”
“There was no indication from the book’s description that it contained graphic illustrations; however, once the librarian and campus administrators became aware of the images, they immediately removed the book,” the statement reads in part. “Illustrations of this sort should never be available in the school environment.”
The school district added that it would be “changing the process we use to review and approve books and related materials to prevent future incidents.”
On Oct. 29, the district then emailed parents again “to follow up and provide you with further information about our book review and removal processes and how the administrative team has been working to better evaluate our curricular resources over the past several months.”
The email promises a new “administrative regulation” for book purchases and donations, an “additional approval layer” that requires the approval of Educational Support Administrators to approve the purchase, new cataloging of classroom libraries and a requirement that every book be approved in every classroom.
But Mrs. May said the district policy still allows only that parents “may” be involved in reviewing books for objectionable content.
A mother of four, she pointed out that the school district immediately removed “Gender Queer” without a full review after she sent an email.
“To remove a book from the school district, parents normally have to read it and submit a formal challenge,” Mrs. May, a mother of four, said. “But with this visual porn book, they responded to my email within 10 to 15 minutes.”
On Oct. 26, Mrs. May began posting tweets about “Gender Queer” that went viral among parents in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“I knew it was porn and I had to get the word out to other parents,” Mrs. May said. “I’m just a stay-at-home mom, but others are too busy to know everything that’s going on.”
The tweets attracted other Keller mothers to help catalog the longer list of 90 books that they said contain acts of “pedophilia, incest, anal sex and more.”
Beyond removing “Gender Queer,” the district has not been immediately sympathetic to the mothers’ concerns.
In a Nov. 5 Facebook exchange, Keller ISD school board president Ruthie Keyes said parents rather than the district should be “ashamed” for spreading pornographic material.
Ms. Keyes also told concerned parent Cathy Youngblood in a Facebook post that “Gender Queer” was only “one of about 589,000 books in the district.”
“It was immediately removed and the only reason hundreds of people saw it is because people started distributing it out on social media. Those are the people that should be ashamed for distributing,” Ms. Keyes wrote.
The Keller petition follows several recent battles over sexually explicit materials in public school libraries across the country.
Fairfax, Virginia, mother Stacy Langton told The Washington Examiner on Monday that her son’s acting principal banned her from his public school library after she complained about an explicit book.
And in Orlando, Florida, FOX 35 reported on Oct. 29 that the Orange County Public Schools removed four copies of “Gender Queer” from district libraries.
Nicole Neily, founder of the nonprofit parental rights group Parents Defending Education, said the trend underscores a larger culture war between parents and teachers for control of what children consume.
“Sadly, in far too many districts across the country, school board members ignore and mock the concerns of the very people they have been elected to represent,” Ms. Neily said.
“It would be strange if parents were not concerned about sexually explicit material accessible to their children — the content of some of these books is not only ideological in nature but also graphic,” she added.
The authors of the targeted books have made no public comment on the controversy.
Promotional materials for “Gender Queer” say the author started it as a way to explain to “family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual,” while “Out of Darkness” tells the erotic details of a biracial “clandestine romance” in 1930s Texas.
Verity Harris described “Jack of Hearts” in a November 2019 United by Pop interview with author Rosen as “the sex ed class that you never got in high school.”
In a Nov. 1 letter, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott chastised the Texas Association of School Boards for allowing “clearly pornographic images” into the state’s school libraries.
“These parents are rightfully angry,” wrote Mr. Abbott, a Republican.
“They are right that Texas public schools should not provide or promote pornographic or obscene material to students,” the governor added.