Spring Branch ISD says it banned book over sexual content, not because it has transgender character

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The removal of a graphic novel from the shelves of Spring Branch ISD elementary school is once again thrusting the school district, some of its parents, into the spotlight.

The book in question is, "The Breakaways," a coming-of-age graphic novel about a middle school soccer team. The novel features a diverse array of students from all ethnic backgrounds and gender identities. One student comes out as transgender during the course of the novel. There are some scenes of teens kissing.

The initial complaint about the book was lodged by a parent at Wilchester Elementary, where the book was in the library. A Change.org petition was also started, where the focus is on the principal of the school, not necessarily the content of the book.

"I'm not in favor of any books that are inappropriate for kids in our library, but that should not be on our principal," said Ashley Davis.

Davis said she is in support of pulling the book, but opposes the criticism of the Wilchester Principal that appears to drive a lot of the effort.

"I think she's a wonderful person, and an excellent principal, and it breaks my heart that people are stepping out, and opposing her," said Davis. "It makes me sad that our community is being divided, because of this."

Spring Branch ISD did not address the principal controversy, but instead issued the statement below:

"Spring Branch ISD enacted its reconsideration process when a parent filed a complaint regarding the book The Breakaways. The district provides the appropriate venue, via Board Policy EF (Local), for individuals to challenge literary and instructional resources in a manner consistent with protecting students' First Amendment rights.

Upon receipt of the complaint, the district identified that the book was part of the library collection at two district elementary schools. The district formed a reconsideration committee in accordance with board policy.

The reconsideration committee determined the book was not age-appropriate nor was it appropriate for its intended educational use. The reconsideration committee recommended that "The Breakaways" not be available in elementary libraries. The book is no longer available in elementary schools.

SBISD continues to prioritize literacy, which includes opportunities for students to grow as readers. We also are committed to ensuring that appropriate materials are available for student choice reading. The selection and review of library materials is an ongoing process. In alignment with SBISD policy, librarians use their expertise to select books and often consult library journals in order to keep libraries current. SBISD will continue to follow its policies on instructional materials selection."


SBISD officials said the fact that a character in the book comes out as transgender did not figure into its decision to pull the book.

However, Mandy Giles, a parent of two non-binary children and the founder of a support group, said the kids are already aware of issues of gender identity and sexual orientation.

"I think kids get it more than parents," said Giles.

She believes that banning a book will not stop the discussion at a time when kids need more positive portrayals of children from all ethnic, gender, and identity backgrounds.

"It makes us feel attacked, especially my children feeling attacked. That their existence, their humanity, is being erased," Giles said.

Lisa Andrews Alpe, a parent at Spring Branch ISD who has researched the controversy at Wilchester Elementary, said the concern of the book is not related to transgender children at all.

"We are concerned about the graphic sexual elements of the book, and the phrase 'bleed the pigs' which refers to violence against police," said Alpe, who is supportive of the ban. Alpe also referred to pages of the book where the teens are seen in the same bed and kissing as inappropriate for elementary school children.

Cathy G. Johnson, the author of "The Breakaways" and several other books for young readers, issued a simple statement.

"I hope going forward that transgender students in Texas are offered the same opportunities, dignities and respect that cisgender students have."

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