Texas School Districts & Book Bans

banned books Texas

The process to ban a book begins when a parent or guardian makes a complaint. Books are almost always challenged by a parent, or every so often, by a teacher.

When a book is challenged, a school may ban it, often permanently; restrict its use to a certain age or class level, or just restrict it for the child whose parents complained; or decide that the book is fine for students and belongs on the shelves.

You may think that the more outrageous a book, the more likely it is to get banned. But really, the process schools use to respond to complaints plays a much greater role in the outcome of a challenge than the content of the book does.

There are generally three ways to evaluate books:

  1. by the librarian or principal
  2. by the school board
  3. by a review committee.

In Texas, half of the 750 districts reported that when a book is challenged, it’s reviewed by the “administration only” or “librarian only.” This means the decision to ban a book can be made by a single person.

This is alarming for those of us who believe that parents have the right to decide what their children read but shouldn’t be able to dictate what other people’s children may or may not read. Often, another parent or teacher will note that a book is simply not “age appropriate” without providing details as to what exactly they are opposed to. This is contrary to the fundamental right of a parent to dictate their child’s upbringing.

Roughly one-fifth of the districts let the School Board review challenged books. The remaining districts rely on a review committee, generally comprised of the principal or superintendent, school librarian, teachers, parents, and hopefully students. Often, librarians are encouraged to read the book and present their opinions to the committee. This is the most democratic way to make decisions that affect the student body, often for decades to come.

Why books are banned

Often, those books that come under the most fire are the ones that shine a light on the issues we are – are ought to be — talking about as a society.

Books are commonly banned for “adult content,” “language,” or simply not being “age appropriate.” Those are often legitimate concerns. But sometimes these words are just a cover for issues that are difficult or make us feel uncomfortable.

Most popular reasons books are challenged by parents:

  • Politically/socially/racially offensive
  • Offensive to religious beliefs
  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Violence and horror
  • Profanity/poor language
  • Sex or nudity

Often, a book was challenged for multiple reasons. Young Adult – a genre which deals frankly with teenagers’ attempts to understand or explore sex, homosexuality, drugs, gangs, suicide, along with the fantasy-horror worlds of vampires, dark angels and zombies – remains the most challenged genre.

Sexual content

Often, it comes down to sex or nudity. Sexual content, however, can be a very loose term.

In North East ISD’s Cibolo Green Elementary, Merriam-Webster’s Visual Dictionary was challenged for “sexual content or nudity” and removed from general circulation. Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen was challenged for a cartoon drawing showing the little boy tumbling in a dream sequence with no diaper on. In another instance, a parent objected to a picture showing a girl with her “back exposed” and “bra unhooked.”

Religious objections

Religious objections were also at the root of many challenges.

A video entitled “Visit into the Daily Lives of Muslim Teenagers” prompted Carroll ISD’s Eubanks Intermediate School to provide an alternate book choice for students because some found it “offensive.” And in 2010, any book seen about sorcery, paganism and witchcraft came under fire. These complaints call into question the line between deeply personal beliefs and the need to develop a curriculum relevant to children from many different backgrounds.

Violence or horror

Violence or horror is another common objection.

While some book challengers consistently take issue with wizard, ghost, and goblin books, believing they represent the occult, others take these tales for completely fictional fantastical worlds where vampires roam the night, smart kids have special powers, and children are encouraged to use their imaginations. Pop culture fads such as literary fiction, movies and television shows about vampires have led to numbers of book challenges in recent years.

Politically, racially, socially offensive

Complaints that a book is “politically, racially, socially offensive” remain numerous.

To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye are two classics that have repeatedly made this list. In 2010, In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien, whose real life-inspired stories on Vietnam earned him a Pulitzer, was challenged for being “politically, racially, socially offensive.” So was Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, and Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser. None of these books, thankfully, were removed. Ellen Hopkins’s series Burned and Cranked take on a dysfunctional family haunted by an abusive, alcoholic father; these were also challenged at several schools for being “offensive.”

Roughly half of challenges lead to a restriction – whether based on grade, age, or the need to get a parent’s permission before checking a book out. Sometimes, this desire to “protect” students from the harsh realities of the outside world seem well-intended but misguided, even silly.

A few examples?

  • Hunt Elementary in Cuero ISD, removed Time-Life Magazine from its library in 2010.
  • In Our Mothers’ House, a book about a multi-racial family headed by lesbian parents, was banned at Glen Rose Intermediate – an attempt to wall off adolescent children from anything that deviates from “traditional” family values.
  • In Leander, the entire Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar was nearly banned for inappropriate language, drugs, and sexual content. The books were challenged not in a middle or elementary school as expected, but at Vandegrift High School.
  • At a middle school in Round Rock, a parent wanted a book banned but refused to read it in order to discuss it with school administrators. This has no doubt happened in other schools.

As always, the question is: Should the tastes or beliefs of a few rule what the rest of us and our children may read? Or should children’s parents have the last word on what their students read?

How to bring a book back into circulation

Once a book is banned, is it forever? After all, our societal standards over language, sex, and other controversial issues, change with time. A major problem with restricting access to literature is that, once a book is banned, there’s often no formal way to bring it back.

Many school districts claim to have reconsideration procedures once a book is removed from library shelves. However,455 districts – more than half of those who responded to a Texas-wide survey – reported that all decisions are final. This means there is no way for a teacher, student, or community member to appeal the decision and reevaluate whether a book belongs in schools.

The ability to revisit situations and free access to information is key to democracy. It is crucial that, in due time, when it becomes clear that Harry Potter readers do not take up witchcraft and put spells on their teachers, or that the values put forth by a book like To Kill a Mockingbird are ones we should aspire to rather than fear, students, parents, librarians, teachers and school administrators have a way to bring a book back into circulation.

In the best of worlds, when a parent challenges a book, this can be a good way to create a community-wide discussion. Educators are forced to read, perhaps for the first time, literature that is popular with their students. Parents are encouraged to see what their children are drawn to and jump into their world.

Whether it’s the Gossip Girl series – nearly banned for sexual content at Vandegrift High School – or a memoir by an 18-year-old Iraq War veteran, challenged for its violent language, isn’t it better to explore and discuss what students are interested in than to think we can keep them in the dark? Certainly this was true with the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird in the 1960’s and continues to be true today.

Above all, when books are restricted or banned, there must be a way to revisit the situation. Ask your local school librarian: have any books been banned in recent years? Is there a way to re-open the discussion? How long must you wait?

A closer look at Texas / The worst areas in Texas

The good news is: when it comes to the outright banning of books, we have seen a slight but steady decrease in both the number of books challenged and banned since the 2007. The bad news is: of those challenges brought before school administrators, 52 percent – more than half – led to a book being banned or restricted.

When books are banned, it dampens students, and even adults enthusiasm for learning. Everyone comes out poorer. Take this example.

In 2010, the town of Humble, outside of Houston, canceled its Teen Lit Festival.

Best-selling author Ellen Hopkins was uninvited after some parents complained about her books that deal with difficult subjects including alcoholism and abuse. Once word spread, four other popular young adult authors withdrew their offers to speak in protest of the censorship. Eventually, the school felt it was easier to cancel the entire event rather than receive negative press. So now there’s no controversy. And no Teen Lit Festival – a shame for those very kids who should be encouraged to find inspiration and self-discovery in literature.

WHERE BOOKS WERE BANNED

BY AGE

Middle School 23%
High School 35%
Elementary School 41%
Intermediate School 5%
Charter School 5%

BY AREA

Geographically, the greatest numbers of challenges came from Round Rock ISD, which did not ban any books. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD came in second with five challenges, and end up removing two Eric Jerome Dickey books from its high school.

Burleson and Seguin ISD tied for third place in challenges with four books each. Of all districts, Seguin ISD took the lead in banning: three of the four books challenged were removed from elementary library shelves.

The remaining school districts averaged one to two challenged books, representing a diverse geographic area of the state from the Rio Grande Valley to North Texas. Elementary schools had the most books banned overall.

Many schools do indeed seem willing to stand up for academic freedom. In Leander ISD, both the person challenging the book and the review committee must read the books before a decision can be made. In Round Rock, a parent wanted a book banned but refused to read it in order to discuss it with school administrators. The school decided not to ban the book then or any of the six challenges they received. Perhaps this is because, in Round Rock, teachers, parents, administrators, and students sit on the committee to review challenges.

“Retained,” and a few “alternative book offered for student” was the most popular response to challenges among the 750 ISDs throughout Texas that contributed to our report. We hope to see this trend again in the 2011-2012 report and congratulate the ISDs that take matters of intellectual freedom and a student’s right to read seriously.

Books Challenged in Each District

AMARILLO ISD

School: Olsen Park Elementary
Book: Birthday Present by Cynthia Rylant
Reason Cited: Sexual Content or Nudity
Result: Retained
Note: Initiated by teacher; objected to line drawing of naked baby girl

AMARILLO ISD

AMARILLO ISD School: Olsen Park Elementary
Book: My Sister Takes Drugs by Judith Vigna
Reason Citied: Drugs or alcohol
Result: Restricted

BEAUMONT ISD

School: All district schools
Book: Dangerously Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity; Offensive to religious beliefs
Result: Banned (elementary); Restricted (middle school); Retained (high school)

BORGER ISD

Schools: Borger Intermediate & Middle
Book: Tangled, Carolyn Markler
Reason Cited: Profanity; sexual content or nudity
Result: Banned

BREMOND ISD

School: Bremond Elementary
Book: Tight End by Matt Christopher
Reason Cited: Other/”Too old for third-grader”
Result: Restricted

BURLESON ISD

School: Hughes Middle School
Book: What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity
Result: Retained

BURLESON ISD

School: Kerr Middle School
Book: Book of Bunny Suicides by Andy Riley
Reason Cited: Violence or horror; Politically/racially/socially offensive
Result: Banned

BURLESON ISD

School: Kerr Middle School
Book: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity
Result: Retained

BURLESON ISD

School: Kerr Middle School
Book: Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Reason Cited: Parent did not specify
Result: Restricted; Alternate book allowed for curriculum

CARROLL ISD

School: Eubanks Intermediate
Video: Visit into the Daily Lives of Muslim Teenagers, SVE Media
Reason Cited: Offensive to religious beliefs; drugs or alcohol
Result: Restricted—alternate allowed

CHICO ISD

School: Chico High School
Book: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity; offensive to religious beliefs
Result: Restricted—alternate book allowed

COPPER AS COVE ISD

School: Clements/Parsons Elementary School
Book: Creepy Castles by Sarah Parvis
Reason Cited: Violence or horror
Result: Banned

CRAWFORD ISD

School: Crawford Elementary School
Book: Lush by Natasha Friend
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity
Result: Moved from the elementary to high school library

CYPRESS-FAIRBANKS ISD

School: Cy Lakes/Cy Springs/Cy Woods High Schools
Book: Drive Me Crazy by Eric Jerome Dickey
Reason Cited: Profanity; sexual content or nudity
Result: Banned

CYPRESS-FAIRBANKS ISD

School: Cy Lakes/Cy Springs/Cy Woods High Schools
Book: Dying for Revenge by Eric Jerome Dickey
Reason Cited: Profanity; sexual content or nudity
Result: Banned

CYPRESS-FAIRBANKS ISD

School: Langham Creek High School
Book: Blue is for Nightmares by Laurie Faria Stolarz
Reason Cited: Violence or horror
Result: Decision pending

CYPRESS-FAIRBANKS ISD

School: Fiest Elementary
Book: Egg to Chick by Millicent E. Selman
Reason Cited: Word “sperm”
Result: Retained

CYPRESS-FAIRBANKS ISD

School: Goodson Middle School
Book: Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde
Reason Cited: Violence or horror
Result: Retained

EARLY ISD

School: Early Primary School
Book: Buster’s Sugartime by Marc Brown
Reason Cited: Offensive to religious sensitivities; politically, racially, or socially offensive
Result: Restricted, but available upon request

EASTLAND ISD

School: Goliad Elementary
Book: Alice on the Outside by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Reason Cited: Profanity; sexual content or nudity
Result: Banned

FERRIS ISD

School: High Schools
Book: Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Reason Cited: Profanity
Result: Retained

FERRIS ISD

School: Intermediate Schools
Book: Chiggers by Hope Larsen
Reason Cited: Profanity
Result: Retained

FORT WORTH ISD

School: Middle Schools
Book: Am I Blue? Coming Out of the Silence, Marion Dane Bauer
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity
Result: Retained

GOOSE CREEK CISD

School: Goose Creek Memorial High School
Book: The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno
Reason Cited: Profanity; sexual content or nudity; drugs or alcohol
Result: Banned

HUNTSVILLE ISD

School: Huntsville High School
Book: Disposable: A History of Skateboard Art by Sean Cliver
Reason Cited: Profanity; sexual content or nudity; violence or horror; politically, racially, or socially offensive; drugs or alcohol
Result: Banned

IRVING ISD

School: Bowie Middle School
Book: Return of the Bunny Suicides by Andy Riley
Reason Cited: Violence or horror
Result: Retained

IRVING ISD

School: John Haley Elementary
Book: The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity
Action Taken: Retained

KERRVILLE ISD

School: Hal Peterson Middle School
Book: The Captured by Scott Zecsh
Reason Cited: Violence or horror
Result: Restricted

KILLEEN ISD

School: Brookhaven Elementary School
Book: Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity; offensive to religious beliefs; use of vulgar terms (fart, burp)
Result: Pending; Currently available

KIRBYVILLE CISD

School: Kirbyville Jr. High School
Book: Stay Out of the Basement by R. L. Stine
Reason Cited: Violence or horror
Result: Restricted for student whose parent is challenged

LA JOYA ISD

School: Chavez Middle School
Book: What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity
Result: Restricted

LA PORTE ISD

School: Jennie Reid Elementary
Book: The Trouble with Babies by Martha Freeman
Reason Cited: Concerning gay couple rearing a child
Result: Decision pending; being reviewed

LEANDER ISD

School: Bagdad Elementary
Book: The Story of Colors by Subcommandante Marcos
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity
Result: Restricted; Copy of book moved to the middle school

LEANDER ISD

School: River Place Elementary
Book: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire
Reason Cited: Inappropriate for elementary
Result: Retained

LOVEJOY ISD

School: Hart Elementary
Book: War Comes to Willy Freeman by James & Christopher Collier
Reason Cited: Profanity; sexual content or nudity; violence or horror; politically, racially, or socially offensive; drugs or alcohol
Result: Retained
Note: Parent requested forms to appeal decision to the school board

MIDWAY ISD

School: Midway Middle School
Book: The Trench by Steve Alten
Reason Cited: Profanity; sexual content or nudity
Result: Banned

NORTH EAST ISD

School: Cibolo Green Elementary
Book: Mirriam-Webster’s Visual Dictionary
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity
Result: Restricted (removed from general circulation; moved to non-circulating Reference)

NORTHSIDE ISD

School: Elementary Schools
Book: Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
Reason Cited: Politically, racially or socially offensive
Result: Retained

NORTHSIDE ISD

School: Elementary Schools
Book: Let’s Get a Pup, Said Kate by Bob Graham
Reason Cited: Politically, racially or socially offensive
Result: Retained

ODEM-EDROY ISD

School: Odem Junior High
Book: Repossessed by A.M. Jenkins
Reason Cited: Profanity; offensive to religious sensitivities; sexual content or nudity
Result: Restricted; Moved to high school

PEARLAND ISD

School: Pearland Junior High West
Book: Boy Minus Girl by Richard Uhlig
Reason Cited: Profanity; offensive to religious sensitivities; drugs or alcohol; sexual content or nudity
Result: Banned 7-8th grade; sent to high school

PERRYTON ISD

School: Williams Intermediate
Book: The Stupids Die by Harry G. Allard, Jr.
Reason Cited: Disrespectful/name-calling/bad manners
Result: Restricted

PHARR-SAN JUAN-ALAMO ISD

School: Palmer Elementary
Book: The Boy Who Looked Like Lincoln by Mike Reiss
Reason Cited: Profanity; sexual content or nudity; illustration and vocabulary offensive
Result: Banned

PLANO ISD

School: High Schools
Book: Culture and Values: A Survey of the Humanities: Vol II by Lawrence S. Cunningham & John J. Reich
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity
Result: Retained

PORT ISABEL ISD

School: Port Isabel Junior High
Book: Fancy White Trash, Marjetta Geerling
Reason Cited: Politically, racially, or socially offensive
Result: Decision pending

PORT NECHES-GROVES ISD

School: Port Neches Middle School
Book: The Slot Machine by Chris Lynch
Reason Cited: Profanity
Result: Banned

QUITMAN ISD

School: Junior & High Schools
Book: Vegan, Virgin, Valentine by Carolyn Mackler
Reason Cited: Profanity; sexual content or nudity; politically, racially, or socially offensive
Result: Decision pending

QUITMAN ISD

School: Junior & High Schools
Book: Echo by Francesca Lia Block
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity
Result: Banned

RICHARDSON ISD

School: Berkner, JJ Pearce, Lake Highlands & Richardson High Schools
Book: Montana 1948 by Larry Watson
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity; suicide
Result: Restricted

ROUND ROCK ISD

School: Hopewell Middle School
Book: All In by Peter Hautman
Reason Cited: Profanity
Result: Retained

ROUND ROCK ISD

School: Canyon Vista Middle School
Book: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Reason Cited: Profanity; violence or horror
Result: Retained; Child given alternative book for curriculum

ROUND ROCK ISD

School: Callison Elementary
Book: Day of Tears by Julius Lester
Reason Cited: Profanity; politically, racially or socially offensive
Result: Retained

ROUND ROCK ISD

School: Cedar Valley Middle School
Book: Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going
Reason Cited: Profanity, other
Result: Retained

ROUND ROCK ISD

School: Cedar Valley Middle School
Book: Dead High Yearbook
Reason Cited: Profanity; violence or horror
Result: Retained

ROUND ROCK ISD

School: Union Hill Elementary
Book: More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Reason Cited: Violence or horror
Result: Retained

SEGUIN ISD

School: Rodriguez Elementary
Book: The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
Reason Cited: Violence or horror
Result: Banned

SEGUIN ISD

School: Rodriguez Elementary
Book: Bee & Jacky by Carolyn Coman
Reason Cited: Profanity; sexual content or nudity
Result: Banned

SEGUIN ISD

School: Rodriguez Elementary
Book: Dragon Slayer’s Academy by Kate McMullan
Reason Cited: Offensive to religious sensitivities
Result: Retained

SEGUIN ISD

School: Rodriguez Elementary
Book: Into the Cold Fire by Lynne Ewing
Reason Cited: Violence or horror
Result: Banned

SHELDON ISD

School: Null Middle School
Book: Gangs by Clive Gifford
Reason Cited: Violence or horror;Graphic gang images (child holding a gun)
Result: Restricted; placed in high school

SPRING BRANCH ISD

School: Stratford High School
Book: Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott
Reason Cited: Other (pedophilia)
Result: Retained

THE EHRHART SCHOOL (K-8th)

School: Ehrhart Charter School
Book: Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
Reason Cited: Homosexual content
Result: Banned

UNION HILL ISD

School: Union Hill High School
Book: Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Reason Cited: Profanity; sexual content or nudity
Result: Restricted

VALLEY MILLS ISD

School: Valley Mills Junior High and High School
Book: Kissing Kate by Lauren Myracle
Reason Cited: Profanity; sexual content or nudity
Result: Banned

WOLFE CITY ISD

School: Wolfe City Elementary
Book: The Junkyard Dog by Erika Tamar
Reason Cited: Profanity
Result: Retained

WOLFE CITY ISD

School: Wolfe City Elementary
Book: The Ten-Speed Babysitter by Alison Cragin Herzig & Jane Lawrence Mali
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity
Result: Restricted to middle school only

WOLFE CITY ISD

School: Wolfe City Elementary
Book: Everything You Need To Know About AIDS by Barbara Taylor
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity
Result: Restricted for high school use only

Commonly banned books

From History

  • Dante’s The Divine Comedy was burned in 1497 on religious grounds
  • The Bible (Martin Luther’s translation) was burned in 1624 by Papal authority
  • Shakespeare’s Tragedy of King Richard II was censored by Queen Elizabeth

From This Century

  • Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (most frequently challenged book of 1999)
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • Forever by Judy Blume
  • most novels by Stephen King

Famous Banned Books by African-American Authors

  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
  • Go Tell it on the Mountain along with Another Country, Tell Me How Long The Train’s Been Gone, If Beale Street Could Talk, Blues for Mr. Charlie by James Baldwin
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • Native Son by Richard Wright

Source:  ACLU Texas

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