Unrequired reading: Texas parents clash after school suspends racy books

Seven books assigned to kids in a Dallas school district have parents clashing and officials investigating.

It started when one group of parents complained about the books assigned to 10th graders in an English class at Highland Park Independent School District, which include well-known works like "Song of Solomon," by Toni Morrison, and Herman Hesse's "Siddhartha." One parent, Tavia Hunt, told the Dallas Morning News that she doesn’t want her sophomore daughter or any students to feel uncomfortable in English class after reading graphic sex scenes.

“This is not about banning books. No one is advocating that,” Hunt said to the newspaper. “We want the kids to have access to the books in the library. The problem is having obscene literature mandatory in the classroom and for discussion.”

District officials responded by pulling the books, which only ticked off another parent group.


“These books were literally pulled out of the hands of the students," said Laurie Dodic Steinberg, who has sons in the eighth and ninth grades at the school. “Anytime a group goes and tries to have a book banned it’s a setback.”

Steinberg along with other parents has started a group along with an online petition on Change.org which has already garnered nearly 700 signatures and the group plans to descend upon the next school board meeting. They claim that the HPISD improperly and illegally changed the curriculum by suddenly removing the books as a group of about 40-50 parents complained.

Officials for the Highland park ISD say that only three of the books were to be used for the curriculum—with only one of those used this fall-- and that they are still stocked in school libraries for students to read on their own. The seven books will be reviewed by a panel of five parents and five teachers to determine whether they will be continued to be used.

“We do have a policy in place for when materials are challenged,” Highland Park School superintendent Dawson Orr said to FoxNews.com. “What it calls for is a defined process and that the board has ultimate say."

Orr added that the panel will reconsider the use of the books and that they could very well end up back in the curriculum and that the current debate is an important one.

“This is a school district with tremendous parental engagement,” Orr said. “We really value and respect that. We want to take the time needed. We really hope for dialogue and not debate.”

The list of the books taken off the English curriculum at Highland Park ISD includes:

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

Stein said having his best-selling 2008 novel banned - or at least having its access reviewed - was a badge of honor.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to be on a banned books list,” Stein told FoxNews.com. “I don’t think any books should be on a banned list.

“I’m a little surprised that my book was suspended from the school’s curriculum because it’s a book about life lessons.”

Stein’s book is a story about the human condition through the eyes of a canine main character. One of the themes pertains to an incident of sexual abuse which Stein thinks may be why the parents in Highland Park may have asked for it to be taken off the list.

“I can only think that the parents didn’t actually read the book before they complained,” the author, who has a new book entitled “A Sudden Light” due next week, said. “These kids are in tenth grade. They are almost at the age where they can fight for this country. Shouldn’t they be able to read books with serious themes?"

The news comes in the midst of "Banned Books Week," a yearly event created by the American Library Association that aims to build awareness to censorship of novels and other books at schools, libraries, and bookstores.