LEANDER — After a viral video, community outrage, and a petition with more than 4,100 signatures, Leander Independent School District officials are saying they will stop offering obscene reading material to school children.

The story unfolded when a viral video showed a woman testifying to the school board of the north Austin-area district about the sexually explicit books available to students in the local schools.

Administrators of Leander ISD had provided at least four different sexually graphic books on a list of recommended options for student-led book clubs. The books—such as “In the Dream House,” a detailed memoir about a violent same-sex relationship—feature profanity and sexual scenes.

“’In the Dream House’ is so explicit that introducing it to minors probably constitutes child abuse under Texas law,” citizen Lori Hines told the school board.

“This book, along with ‘Lolita’—currently being taught to an eighth-grade class—could definitely be considered grooming,” she added. “If you haven’t read ‘Lolita,’ just know that Jeffrey Epstein named his private airplane the ‘Lolita Express.’”

Lolita is a 1950s-era book about a 37-year-old man’s obsession and inappropriate relations with a 12-year-old girl.

Hines’ testimony included a reading from the books, as well as a moment when she took a sex toy out of her purse and dropped it on the table, as direct imagery of the content in one of the books.

“This is what we are asking our children to read,” she said, adding that while “no one is asking to ban books,” she was outraged that the district staff did not tell or consult parents about the material.

“We are asking for age-appropriate reading material that advances independent thought and critical thinking. … Netflix uses maturity ratings and classifications so that viewers can, and I quote, ‘make informed viewing choices for you and your family,’” she said. “Parents in LISD deserve no less.”

After parents discovered the material, citizens started a petition calling for district officials to review the curriculum and create clear, specific standards and information for parents.

“Educators placing books into the hands of LISD children that depict visually graphic BDSM (bondage & discipline, dominance & submission, sadism & masochism) scenes, the use of various sexual toys, the act of gang rape, and more, crosses both legal and ethical boundaries,” the petition read. It also referenced studies by the American Psychological Association on the numerous harmful effects of sexualizing children through media and literature.

“As a healthcare professional, I’ll just point out the obvious: The above content presented to a minor constitutes sexual abuse and should be reported as such,” one petition signer commented. “Had the above pornographic material been given to my child by anyone, including a teacher, a criminal complaint would promptly be filed. If an adult sent a text or email to a minor with the above content, they would be arrested. Has the person who chose these selections been fired? Investigated?”

District administrators initially replied that they did not adequately research the books their staff recommended before purchasing them several months ago and blamed their failure to read on the coronavirus.

This week, however, officials released a more detailed statement apologizing for their actions and promising to repair their policies.

“We over-relied on written reviews and recommendations. … Teachers were not able to thoroughly read each book,” the statement read. “Some books containing passages not suitable for students made it through this flawed vetting process. We acknowledge this breakdown in the process and apologize for selecting inappropriate literature for the assigned students’ ages.”

District officials also said they’ve already pulled six titles from the book club reading list and are in the process of vetting the rest of the 140 recommended books with their Community Curriculum Advisory Committee of more than 70 parents, teachers, and other staff.

“After listening to the concerns from our community, our administrators are currently working on drafting verbiage for board policy prohibiting the purchase of inappropriate literature for the assigned ages,” the statement continued.

The LISD school board will discuss these curriculum selection policies at their upcoming March 25 meeting. Concerned citizens may testify or contact the school board members.

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.