Jennifer Collins, the district’s executive director of elementary curriculum, said the district has documented concerns and has a list of titles, topics and themes of concern to the community.
To review the literature, a LISD employee from outside the humanities department will lead a group of parents, teachers and staff members to determine resources appropriate for students in a continuous improvement cycle, Collins said at the Nov. 5 board of trustees meeting.
“We need to do a better job of vetting the materials and the titles. That is evident in the concerns that we have received from the community,” Chief Academic Officer Matt Bentz said. “And I take full responsibility for that, and we will do a better job moving forward.”
In the spring, the district completed the high school language arts curriculum process adoption. The process was required ahead of the Texas Education Agency’s new Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills requirements to begin in fall 2020, Collins said. The TEKS requirements aimed to add diversity in genre, theme and author.
Parents, staff and community members reviewed the materials in early 2020, and the book selection process was completed mostly remotely through the pandemic in March, April and May. Collins said the process had an over-reliance on online reviews.
District spokesperson Matt Mitchell said the main themes of concern to parents were social justice and how physical contact is described in books. The books in question were for new student choice book clubs, which are topic-based and are not required readings. Titles eliciting concerns are now removed from the 15 title choices for each group.
Bentz said the review group will look at all the options for establishing a firm process in selecting books moving forward. He said the aim is to be more transparent and to ensure the appropriate literature and resources for teachers and families.
Bentz said once the vetting process is complete, the district will bring titles back to the school board. Titles will also be shared publicly. In a statement to Community Impact Newspaper, Bentz said the review process should be complete before winter break ahead of the release of spring student-choice book club titles.
"We are not rushing this process. We are taking our time to be thorough and comprehensive. Parents are playing a vital role in participating in the process. We are going to get this right for our students and for our community," Bentz said in the statement.
Board Member Aaron Johnson said this is not an isolated incident. He said he is looking to rebuild trust as a parent himself and for the community. He said the district needs a robust process to ensure that material is relatively safe for general consumption. He said material should be widely unobjectionable.
“I’m personally embarrassed and shocked at some of the content that I’ve seen,” Johnson said.
Literary classics remain part of the LISD curriculum, Bentz said. He said they are also part of a new resource purchase in the new high school English language art textbook. Board Member Jim MacKay said there are current debates over historical undertones in the classics.
“Even within the classics there’s debate raging now about some of the historical undertones that may have been misrepresented in these classics, which are now causing other districts to remove the classics because they’re no good either,” MacKay said.
Editor's note: This article has been updated with additional information from the district regarding the themes and books in question. Further specifications on the titles or themes with concerns have been requested. More information will be added as received.
Correction: The person leading the review group is from outside the humanities department. The article previously stated the facilitator was from outside the Leander school district.