Details and Actions Steps for Community Concern Regarding High School English Language Arts Instructional Materials

Background:

Approximately every 10 years the State Board of Education and the Texas Education Agency review and revise the state standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, that are taught in Texas public schools. As part of that process, the State of Texas undergoes the adoption of new instructional materials in cycles called proclamations

In the Spring of 2020, we adopted new instructional materials for secondary English Language Arts (ELA) according to Proclamation 2020 as outlined below:

Proclamation 2020:

  • State Adoption, Fall 2019 
  • Board Approved Framework for the Materials, March 2020
  • Materials Ordered, Spring 2020 
  • Implementation, 2020–21 School Year 
  • English Language Arts and Reading, English I–IV 
  • ELA Electives 
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages I and II 
  • English Learners Language Arts, 7–8 

How did we select these books?

Leander ISD developed a new English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum aligning to the new state standards and provides guidance for teachers. As a part of the new curriculum for our students, we created two book club reading opportunities for each high school ELA course, and 15 titles for each book club unit were selected and vetted by the Curriculum Design Team: a group of curriculum specialists, general education teachers, special education teachers, ESL teachers, instructional coaches, and librarians. The 15 titles include a wide range of reading levels and topics.

In Spring 2020, this review took place when we closed our buildings and all staff worked virtually from home due to COVID. We selected the specific titles after the Board of Trustees approved a framework for the adoption, not including the book titles or themes, during the March 12, 2020 Board of Trustees meeting

We over-relied on written reviews and recommendations. We chose not to purchase the multiple copies of each title necessary to mail them to teachers. At the time, we were not allowing any non-essential employees in buildings and we were not distributing any supplies. Teachers were not able to thoroughly read each book. Some books containing passages not suitable for students made it through this flawed vetting process. We acknowledge this breakdown in the process and apologize for selecting inappropriate literature for the assigned students’ ages.

What are Student Choice Book Clubs? 

Students select their book from the book club list. Teachers may suggest titles based on a student’s interests and reading level, but ultimately the student owns the choice. Parents are also offered an opportunity to review books prior to students selecting titles.  This process has been tightened through the CCAC work this Fall/Spring. With approximately 15 book club titles in each unit, the titles represent a variety of reading levels to facilitate independent reading, as well as a variety of topics, voices, and cultures. Supported by the teacher and a “book club” of peers reading the same title, students will read, respond to, analyze, and critique the title they have selected. This work takes place in book club discussions, student-teacher conferences, writers’ notebook entries, and written analyses. Students participate in one student choice book club each semester, running approximately ten to fourteen class sessions each.

What are we currently doing to address this situation? 

We asked the Community Curriculum Advisory Committee (CCAC) to vet all high school English Language Arts student choice book club selections. Our teachers are not using book club titles until they have been thoroughly reviewed through the rigorous CCAC process.

We have assigned a team of Continuous Improvement Facilitators from various departments (outside of language arts) trained specifically for this type of activity, to lead the work in the CCAC meetings. Currently, more than 70 parents, community members, educators, and additional campus representatives including counselors, librarians, instructional coaches, principals/APs are engaged in the vetting process.  The committee is vetting all 140 book club titles we added to our existing collections, by grade level and unit of study, throughout the fall and spring semester. The vetting process encompasses reading each title, discussing in small groups, assessing each book based on specific criteria, and making recommendations to keep, remove, or pull a title pending further review. 

The CCAC page has a detailed set of review cycle summaries and recommendations. We completed the review of 30 book titles through this process. Those details are posted on our CCAC webpage, as will the results of additional review cycles.

We are publishing the results of each review cycle for the Board and community.  We post the results on the CCAC webpage.

What are the next steps? 

We will continue the vetting cycles of book titles throughout the spring semester. The Board formed a policy committee as part of a comprehensive review of the district’s policies. Policy concerning curriculum adoption is included in this districtwide review. The administration will bring policy proposals through this subcommittee of the Board before a recommendation is brought to the entire Board. After listening to the concerns from our community, our administrators are currently working on drafting verbiage for board policy prohibiting the purchase of inappropriate literature for the assigned ages. As part of this policy review process, the district will continue to meet with stakeholder groups to shape possible revisions. In the case of curriculum adoption, this will include the CCAC. 

The Board will discuss instructional materials selection and the local policy process at their March 25 meeting. The meeting on March 11 is a special meeting. During special meetings, Citizen Comments must be for items on the agenda. We are here to continue listening through governance.team@leanderisd.org. The next opportunity to provide public comment on the issue of instructional materials and books in our high school ELA courses will be the March 25 Board of Trustees meeting.

What is the district doing as a result of concerning discourse amongst community members and this issue of books and instructional materials?

Our district administration balances the private and individual rights of our community members with the operation of our schools and programs. We hear and see the discourse and discussion in our community about the high school English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum. The actions of individuals in our community targeting others on social media and with the delivery of inappropriate mail is totally unacceptable. As a community, we owe it to each other to treat one another with respect and dignity.

If you would like to join our community effort to review books, please email jennifer.collins@leanderisd.org for details and to sign-up.

We want everyone to feel included in the discussions around their schools and our students’ learning. We appreciate you sharing your concerns and share your concern about parents feeling welcomed to speak in our public board meetings and other public forums. 

All volunteers in Leander ISD agree to our Volunteer Guidelines when registering for service each year. The registration process allows us to do a national background check on our volunteers and the guidelines provide rules and procedures for supporting our schools. If a volunteer violates our guidelines, the action and possible removal of the volunteer or adjustment to their volunteer role will be determined by the leadership in place in the roles where they serve. For example, a volunteer who serves on a committee may be removed from a role at the decision of the committee’s membership and district or school leaders facilitating the committee. 

Volunteers have first amendment rights and their involvement with the district does not prevent them from exercising free speech. While we hope a person would use their free speech to continue a productive dialogue, we do not have the authority to infringe upon that right.

Thank you for partnering with LISD as we strive to continuously improve our systems and processes. We pledge to continue listening to community feedback and making necessary adjustments.

Letter from Superintendent Addressing Community Concerns