When Sherry Clemens reviewed the literature on her 8th grade daughter’s book list, she was appalled at the storylines in some of the manuscripts.
“I quickly found some inappropriate content and a couple of sex scenes that I thought were way too graphic for 13-year-olds,” Clemens told Dallas Express.
One of the permission slip books, Everybody Sees the Ants, depicted a boy being gang-raped in a locker room at school.
“The whole book is about suicide and sexual abuse,” Clemens said in an interview. “The gang rape scene was very traumatic for me to read as a 41-year-old woman. I had tears in my eyes reading it. Just thinking of my kids reading this and what that would make them feel and thinking about other kids reading it that have parents that maybe they can’t talk to about this is horrible.”
Clemens, whose 13-year-old daughter attends a Richardson Independent School District junior high school in Dallas, complained to the principal. After a reportedly unsatisfactory meeting, she decided to appeal to the Board of Trustees of the Richardson Independent School District.
“There is sexual content in seven out of the ten books,” Clemens told the Board on Sept. 20. “One of them having 53 incidences of sex. Example from Burn Baby Burn: ‘Angel was my first experience with a guy, a fact that I try to forget daily. One minute we were kissing in Angel’s room and a little while later he was driving me home, my shirt buttoned wrong and a wad of toilet paper in my underwear to catch the blood.’ There’s no approved book list, and teachers are given full autonomy as to what books they select. How can every teacher be responsible to know the appropriateness of every book? How is it that my daughter could be reading books with major profanity and sexual content…because it’s the goal of RISD to reach all students? I demand better for my children.”
Clemens’ reprimand of the Richardson school district can be viewed in part here.
When members of the RISD Board of Trustees were approached for comment, Tim Clark, RISD executive director of communications, issued the following statement:
“On September 20, RISD became aware of a parent concern related to optional book club choices within a junior high classroom. That concern has circulated and led to additional questions from other parents related to how book titles are selected for RISD libraries and classrooms, and the guidelines teachers use when selecting discretionary book titles to supplement classroom libraries. RISD has reviewed the initial concern, which was limited to one classroom teacher and involved a variety of teacher-selected supplemental book titles made available for students to choose from in a book of choice exercise. Some of the titles explored themes that involved content that was more mature and explicit than appropriate for junior high students. Students in the class were not required to read any specific title, and parents of students who chose to read one of the titles with mature content were first required to approve the choice through a specific consent process. Last year, one of the titles was provided to the teacher by the former director of ELAR as a potential choice option for GT student book clubs. Regardless, after reviewing the content of the selected books, the district acknowledges that the material included in the supplemental books in question was indeed inappropriate and is grateful that the concern was brought forward.”
As a result of Clemens’ advocacy, the district apologized and said it is temporarily pausing classroom activities involving teacher-selected book titles to ensure they can be vetted and approved by district teaching and learning staff.
“RISD is reviewing the guidelines and criteria that teachers must follow when selecting supplemental book titles for their classrooms,” the statement said. “RISD is also taking steps to ensure that any of the titles in question are removed from junior high supplemental classroom library collections, if necessary. The district apologizes that this happened and is taking steps to ensure it doesn’t occur moving forward.”
Clark further told Dallas Express, “While the book titles selected by the teacher for the English class are not related to the Social & Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum, you can find information about the SEL curriculum that RISD uses at this link.”
Since then, Clemens said her daughter, Chloe, has experienced retaliation, and the teacher is allegedly still handing out pornographic materials to the class.
“The teacher was pretty angry,” she said. “The whole week she was not nice. She wasn’t remorseful, apologetic, or kind from what my daughter said, and then the very next day, my daughter texted and said the teacher was handing the books back out.”
Clemons ultimately asked that Chloe be removed from the class.
“I no longer trust the teacher,” Clemens added. “I can’t trust her with my daughter’s heart or my daughter’s mind if she believes that these books are okay for kids. I don’t expect every teacher to believe exactly what I believe, by any means, but this is a trust issue now without any remorse or any actual conflict resolution with me or even communication with me about anything. And then how she treated my daughter, it just was not a good situation for her.”
Clemens, who is expecting Chloe to attend college in five years, said she wants her daughter to read preparatory books.
“She is only four years away from taking the SAT,” she said. “Chloe needs to be reading books that are going to help her be successful in life and not necessarily be educated on a social justice issue or a sexual assault. That’s not education. I don’t know if it’s shock value or why the teacher wanted to do it. I really don’t know. Maybe she thinks she’s helping the kids, but I don’t know how.”
Note: This story was updated on October 4, 2021 at 9:36am.