Education News

Conroe ISD removes ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ from high school curriculum after parent’s complaint

The public school district north of Houston is keeping the popular 1999 novel in its libraries for high school students and plans to revisit whether prior parental consent should be required before checking it out.

The Conroe ISD board voted early Wednesday to remove the 1999 novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” from its curriculum for high school students. The book is remaining available in school libraries.

Trustees for a public school district north of Houston spent hours late Tuesday and early Wednesday debating the appropriateness of "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" – a 1999 coming-of-age novel that appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list and was adapted into a film – before ultimately deciding to remove it from the existing curriculum for sophomore English students.

The decision by the Conroe ISD board, which voted to allow the critically acclaimed book to remain in its libraries but only at the high school level, stemmed from a May 2022 complaint and subsequent appeal by a parent who asked the district to ban it altogether. Citing subject matter including drug and alcohol use as well as rape, the parent claimed it "would morally corrupt the minds of all who read the novel."

The trustees' ruling amended a previous determination by a school district committee charged with reviewing educational materials for legality and adherence to district policy, which found the book should not be removed from libraries or course curriculum, but granted the complaining mother's request that it not be made available to her son. The committee also determined the book should be passed along to Conroe's high school libraries if it is found in lower-level collections.

In a 5-3 vote early Wednesday to uphold most of the committee's determinations, the board also decided to revisit whether prior parental consent should be required before students can check out "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," which was written by Stephen Chbosky and chronicles the life of a high school freshman in the Pittsburgh area. As it stands now, Conroe ISD parents can fill out a form to opt out of specific books and other educational materials, with all other content remaining available to students.

Datren Williams, who was among the trustees to support the board's decision, noted it was the first time in his 10 years on the board he was tasked with reading a book in order to determine its appropriateness for students. He said he wants students to have access to all of the district's books and that "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" has value to students in Conroe.

"The stuff that's in this book goes on (in Conroe high schools), right?" Williams said. "... I think what we have is a classic case of situational ethics. In one sentence, we want parents to have a choice. We don't want us making decisions for the parents. But in this case, we're making a decision for everyone."

According to information on the website for Conroe ISD, which serves more than 71,000 students on a total of 67 campuses, it has received nine requests to review books since 2006, with five of those requests having been filed since December 2021. The only time a book was banned by the district altogether was last year, when the "A Court of Thorns and Roses" series, written by Sarah J. Maas, was removed from Conroe's high school libraries.

"Ramona Blue," written by Julie Murphy, remains under review by the district.

Attorney Jonathan Hoolihan of the conservative group County Citizens Defending Freedom, who represented the complaining parent at Tuesday's board meeting, said "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" should be banned by Conroe ISD because it is "pervasively vulgar" and lacks educational value. Hoolihan cited references in the novel to homosexuality, beastiality and "men picking up young boys," along with rape, alcohol use and drug use.

"How did this end up in our school system?" Hoolihan said. "How does a grown person write a book like that for your kids?"

Robert Morris, an attorney representing Conroe ISD's review committee, said its decision to keep the book in circulation was a sound one based on applicable laws and the district's own policies, which state that no material "shall be removed solely because of the ideas expressed therein" and that its libraries should "develop a balanced collection presenting multiple viewpoints related to controversial issues to foster critical thinking skills and encourage discussion based on rational analysis."

Morris also challenged the claim that "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" could be considered harmful or obscene under the Texas Penal Code. He said that typically refers to material that is titillating, such as erotica or pornography, which is not the case with the book in question. He added that many of the scenarios depicted in the book are relatable to teenagers.

"You have students today who do drugs in this district," Morris said. "You have students in this district who use alcohol. You have students in this district who smoke cigarettes. You have students in this district that have sex. You have students in this district that have tragically, as you've heard tonight, committed suicide and are at risk of committing suicide.

"'The Perks of Being a Wallflower,' in my estimation, did not create that reality for your high school students. But it reflects that reality that your high school students live in. If you were to reject this book because you find it immoral or wicked, you are sending a signal to a segment of your student population that demeans the reality that they live in."

Today in Houston Newsletter Signup
We're in the process of transitioning services for our Today in Houston newsletter. If you'd like to sign up now, fill out the form below and we will add you as soon as we finish the transition. **Please note** If you are already signed up for the newsletter, you do not need to sign up again. Your subscription will be migrated over.