As a result of parent concerns about sensitive or inappropriate book content and a several months-long review process, Leander ISD board members approved two new policies related to the selection of instructional materials.

LISD trustees approved the policies in a 6-1 vote. Board Member Jim MacKay voted against approval. Revised local implementation policies can be read in the board meeting agenda.

A review on the 2020-21 high school student-choice book club titles began in November after some content in the book options was deemed inappropriate for students.

Community Curriculum Advisory Committee review cycles found that 100 books in the 2020-21 book club unit met review criteria, 13 books did not meet the criteria and were removed, and six books were paused in use pending further review. Further review means the district was requesting counselors to assist with sensitive content or for other reasons.

One local change, which directs "teaching about controversial issues," include that a teachers' responsibilities "demand objectivity in presenting various sides of controversial issues" in the curriculum, and they should be "well informed in areas being studied and capable of providing instruction on the subject, free of personal bias," as said in the redlined changes.

A second policy is about instructional resources selection. New changes include revising that resources present "multiple viewpoints related to controversial issues to foster critical thinking skills and encourage discussion based on rational analysis." Additionally, the policy requires staff to ensure resources "containing sensitive content or addressing sensitive issues, including but not limited to sexuality, violence, or profanity, shall be subject to careful scrutiny and review."

Among other changes, a section was added to the policy detailing that parents or guardians will be given notice of reading selections in middle and high school with titles, summaries and identification of potentially sensitive topics and themes, the approved policy states.

The second implementation resolution gives the district until the end of the 2021-22 school year to implement the new policies.

Aug. 5 book club discussion

At the Aug. 5 school board meeting, district officials outlined changes in the district’s book club process and provided the results of the book review.

Books in the 2020-21 book club units were based on the Texas Education Agency’s new Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills requirements, which began in fall 2020. Chief Academic Officer Matt Bentz said Aug. 5 that the new state standards for language arts called for added diversity in cultures, genders, authors and lived experiences in literature. Bentz said district staff and teachers went through a process to select titles that met the new diversity standards.

Jennifer Collins, the assistant superintendent of curriculum, said the district reviewed these titles in an eight-cycle of the book club review process. Community and staff members in the Community Curriculum Advisory Committee were involved in the process that reviewed books line by line, Collins said.

Another review cycle will be held to further evaluate titles before they are added back into the system once the new policies are adopted, Collins said Aug. 5.

Collins said the district is now working on an instructional materials adoption manual, which will be piloted this year with physical education courses and future Advanced Placement courses. This is expected to be ready in October. A three- to five-year picture of upcoming materials adoptions will also be presented to the board in the future, Collins said.

“Moving forward, we believe that we have to be very intentional with what is expected in bringing any additional resources into our system,” Collins said Aug. 5. “I believe that the instructional materials manual that we are designing is going to help with that, and [the second] policy will also help guide that.”

The manual will bring more robust methods to gather more feedback from the community and school board, Bentz said. Feedback would come throughout the process instead of at the end or after the process.

Book unit titles were also changed to better reflect their learning outcomes, Collins said Aug. 5. The “Contemporary fiction book clubs: A study of individuality and belonging” was changed to “Literary fiction: A study of author and reader perspectives.” Collins said the new unit title is more specific to what the learning should be for that unit. The term “book clubs” is no longer included in the unit title because it gave a misconception that the unit was about a book club.

The district will also publish a secondary language arts website that shares book title selections available, background information and a feedback form. Other changes include improved parent communication expectations and an opportunity for parents to say titles they do not want their children to read.

Letters to parents with details about the book clubs were a “best practice” last year, but informational letters will now be the expectation for teachers, Collins said.