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After Parents Complain, Highland Park ISD Suspends Seven Books From Classrooms


UPDATE, Sept. 26: Highland Park has restored one of the seven suspended books to its approved reading list. In an email blast, the district says the person who challenged A Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls withdrew that challenge on Wednesday. 

Original Post: The Highland Park school district has issued seven suspensions. Not for students -- for books.

Officials pulled all seven from the classroom after parents complained about what’s in them. Parents sent the district several hundred emails, concerned about questionable content in some of the books, including sex scenes, abortion, and abuse.

“They revolved around the depiction of adolescent relationships and the use of some sexually explicit language in describing that,” Highland Park Superintendent Dawson Orr said.

What the district says

The books include Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison and The Working Poor, a nonfiction book by David Shipler.

The district, however, had already approved these books -- and some were being taught in class. So some teachers had to scramble and adjust their lesson plans.

“The decision to suspend has required the teachers to, in essence, adjust their syllabus,” Orr said. “I think teachers were well equipped to make that change and it certainly required more work on their part.”

The district is not using the term "ban." The books are not in the classroom for now, but are still available in district libraries.

Parents react

Some parents are already organizing to oppose the suspensions. Some don't care for the district's decision -- and some are concerned that teachers have had to change gears in the middle of the school year.

“Expanding beyond your comfort zone in many ways in a literary sense is invaluable,” said Letty Spicer, a parent. “Now my son and his classmates have effectively lost the first six weeks of study.”

A woman who identifies herself as a Highland Park High School alum haslaunched a petition on to encourage the district to change its mind.

Authors react

Sherman Alexie, an author whose book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, has been pulled from district classrooms, posted on Twitter:

Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain, said:

"It was a little baffling," Stein told KERA about his book being pulled from Highland Park ISD classrooms. Read his interview with KERA here.

What’s next

Groups of parents, teachers, and sometimes students will take a second look at the books and send their recommendations to school officials. That process that could take months.

Options include keeping the book, removing the book, or teaching it in certain classes. 

One suspended book is The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls. She’s the keynote speaker for the district’s literary festival in February. Orr says those plans haven’t changed.

The Suspended Seven

Here's a list of the books that aren't allowed for now:

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
  • The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls
  • Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  • The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler

Banned Books Week

News of the book suspensions comes during Banned Books Week, which is observed across the country. Orr says the timing was purely coincidental. Learn about Banned Books Week here.

One of the books on the Highland Park suspension list is among the most challenged titles of 2013, according to the American Library Association and Banned Books Week. That's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Among the reasons: drugs, alcohol and smoking; offensive language; racism; sexually explicit; and unsuited to age group.

Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982 according to the American Library Association. There were 307 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2013, and many more go unreported.

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.