LEANDER — “’In the Dream House’ is so explicit that introducing it to minors probably constitutes child abuse under Texas law.”

The Leander Independent School District is under public fire after a recent viral video showed a woman testifying to the school board about the obscene, sexually explicit books available to students in the local schools.

Administrators of Leander ISD, a school district in the suburb of Austin, featured 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 very detailed memoir about a violent same-sex relationship—feature strong profanity and obscene sexual scenes.

“This book, along with ‘Lolita’—currently being taught to an eighth-grade class—could definitely be considered grooming,” citizen Lori Hines told the school board. “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.

And while Hines stated “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.”

“These books are way more graphic and disgusting than a lot of movies that are out, even at this time,” said one district mom, who asked to be identified as Stacy. “For some, it might bring ideas of things they might want to do that they didn’t want to do before that are inappropriate.”

District administrators, in an email to local station KXAN, said they did not adequately research the books their staff recommended before purchasing them several months ago. They blamed their failure on the coronavirus.

“Teachers, librarians, district administrators, and vendors recommended titles to be considered. Because the work in 2020 could not happen in person due to the pandemic, the team relied heavily on recommendations and online book reviews,” their email read.

One citizen responded to that statement on Twitter.

“Due to the #pandemic and lack of [in-person] time, we were unable to read the books we endorsed for your teenagers, but we won’t apologize for giving them sexually #explicit material. -paraphrasing,” the citizen wrote.

Since parents discovered the material, citizens have started a petition calling for district officials to review the curriculum and create clear standards and information for parents. The petition currently has more than 3,000 signatures.

“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?”

“I ask, please revisit the book review process to ensure all voices are heard,” Hines concluded in her testimony to the school board. “Review the criteria for what is an acceptable book—awards are a meaningless criteria. Provide accurate, thorough descriptions of the books to parents. Permission slips should be given to parents so they can opt out or opt in at books, thus allowing book choices that align with each family’s values.”

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.