UPDATED December 21 to include a statement from McKinney ISD Trustee Chad Green.

As Texas parents speak out against sexually explicit books in their kids’ schools, they’re shocked to find school district officials defending the “graphic and inappropriate” materials.

McKinney Independent School District is one of the latest battlegrounds in the fight for parental oversight of public school curriculum.

District Defends Books Challenged by McKinney Mom

Among the controversial books parents are protesting is “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” a 1999 novel that contains explicit descriptions of minors engaging in sex and a teenager being raped.

“This upsets me as a parent. I can’t believe they think this book is okay for students to read, and they claim it’s educational,” McKinney mom Rachel Elliott told Texas Scorecard.

Elliott, whose daughter is a fourth grader in the district, asked officials there to remove the book, which is currently in the district’s three high school libraries.

She contends young students like her daughter are able to check out “Wallflower” and other books with mature content that Elliott says no kid under 18 should be given access to at school.

On Friday, the district denied Elliott’s request.

A letter from McKinney ISD Deputy Superintendent Melinda DeFelice said the book “meets the selection criteria” in the board’s policy on instructional resources.

“Therefore, the book will continue to circulate without restriction,” DeFelice wrote, adding Elliott can appeal the district’s decision.

Elliott isn’t alone in her fight, or in the resistance she’s receiving from school officials defending what many parents describe as pornography.

El Paso Parent’s Protest Met with Defensive District Officials

El Paso parents protested the same book last week, after a teacher made it required reading for 14-year olds at Eastlake High School in Socorro ISD.

“My concern is that my child was assigned a very inappropriate book by his English teacher. There was no parent consent form sent out for me to sign,” Eastlake mom Elda Marmolejos told local media outlet KTSM.

Marmolejos said she was particularly upset with kids being exposed to “very graphic and inappropriate” parts of the book that describe a teenage girl being raped then getting an abortion without parental consent and two boys having sex.

She said she met with Eastlake’s principal and librarians from the district, but “felt they spent the entire meeting trying to ‘defend’ the teacher and convince her they followed policy.”

Parent Movement Gains Momentum

These Texas parents are part of a national movement to reclaim control over public schools’ curriculum and demand transparency and accountability from education officials about what materials their kids are being exposed to in school.

Parents in districts across the state have discovered their students have access to controversial sexual content, and they’re calling on officials to stop defending it and start removing it.

In October, Keller ISD parents confronted district officials about a graphic novel containing explicit illustrations of adolescents performing sex acts.

Earlier this month, parents in Katy ISD finally succeeded in convincing district officials to remove several sexually explicit books from library shelves, after reading shockingly graphic excerpts out loud during a school board meeting. The district has also created an online book review portal for parents to vet books and provide feedback.

At least one member of McKinney ISD’s school board is also listening to parents. Trustee Chad Green, a conservative elected earlier this year on a platform of giving citizens a voice in the district, wrote in an open letter to the community:

I want us to focus on preparing students for successful careers, not exposing our underage students to highly sexualized materials. But I believe it is just as important that if we are to become the highest performing district in our county, we MUST be transparent in what we do. We MUST provide a vehicle that listens to the community, takes and evaluates public input, has open discussions and makes decisions in public. The board needs to be that vehicle. Our community, our taxpayers, and most importantly, our students, deserve nothing less.

Governments Apply Pressure

Last week, commissioners in Williamson County decided to withhold federal coronavirus funds from two local districts—Leander ISD and Round Rock ISD—under fire from parents for keeping inappropriate books on their library shelves. County officials hope the move will pressure school officials to respond to parental concerns.

At the state level, Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter in November asking the Texas Association of School Boards to take action, saying TASB members (local school district board members) “have an obligation to Texas parents and students to ensure that no child in Texas is exposed to pornography or other inappropriate content while inside a Texas public school.”

When TASB responded it wasn’t their job to police porn in public schools, Abbott asked the Texas Education Agency, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, and State Board of Education to develop standards for keeping inappropriate material out of public schools.

Abbott said the statewide standards must ensure “transparency about the materials being taught in the classroom and offered in school libraries” and that “our schools have an appropriate and transparent process, which includes parents and community members, to vet school and library materials before they are used.”

In the meantime, Texas parents are demanding transparency and accountability now, and they’re prepared to replace local district officials unwilling to keep sexually explicit material out of their kids’ schools.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.