Board responds to book challenge with parental notification policy | Local News

The Pitt County School Board voted Monday to require parents to be told which books their children should read in class. The vote, taken at a special meeting, was in response to a complaint from a parent about sexually explicit content and profanity in books assigned to middle school students.

Seven school board members voted in favor of developing a parental notification policy, suggested by Vice President Don Rhodes. District 5 Representative Anna Barrett Smith was not present for the special meeting called. Chairman James Tripp, who represents District 3, did not vote.

Parent Taylor Keith, who voiced his objection to teaching Sharon M. Draper’s ‘Forged by Fire’ and ‘Darkness Before Dawn’ and Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s ‘All American Boys’, said he was not satisfied with the result. and said the decision angered several parents.

“The school board claimed today that a policy already exists. It’s wrong,” Keith said. “That’s why we are where we are. There is no policy to protect children from books like this.

Keith, who filed an objection in November to Ayden Middle School’s use of the books, appealed to the school board after a selection committee upheld the school’s decision that the books complied with a district policy requiring instructional materials to be appropriate for students. maturity levels.

“Forged by Fire” includes a story in which a daughter is sexually abused by her father. In “Darkness Before Dawn”, the antagonist is a high school track coach who rapes student athletes. “All American Boys” deals with police brutality towards an innocent black teenager.

At Monday’s meeting, District 9 Representative Benjie Forrest and District 6 Representative Worth Forbes presented several motions to address the books in question.

“We really have to be careful about the materials we use for instruction from the perspective that society today is getting so dark in so many ways,” Forrest said. “We must at least ensure that we also have educational materials that uplift students and ensure their well-being, their hope and their promise.”

Attempts to remove “All American Boys” from college media centers, which District 4 Representative Rhodes also supported, or to ban the teaching of “Forged by Fire” and “Darkness Before Dawn” in theaters failed college class.

Referring to “All American Boys,” Superintendent Ethan Lenker said about a dozen schools in the district have copies of the book in their media centers, but said a media and technology advisory committee had determined that the book should not be used as teaching material. college level.

“All American Boys,” published in 2015, was third on the American Library Association’s list of “10 Most Contested Books of 2020.”

At a school board business session ahead of the meeting, district media specialist Meredith Hill told the board that seven titles had been challenged at Pitt County schools over the past decade.

The list of disputed books, provided on request to the Daily Reflector, includes: Earl Sewell’s ‘Myself and I’, Carl Dueker’s ‘Gym Candy’, John Hamilton’s ‘Behind the Terror’ and Lauren Myracle’s ‘Kissing Kate’.

Hill said media coordinators rely on professional reviewers to decide which books to add to a school library collection and said they don’t have access to books before buying them. She said current district policies give parents the ability to request alternate assignments for their children if they object to the content of assigned books.

Kimberly Lucas, district specialist for middle school English language arts, showed the board a sample letter that teachers could use to alert parents to potentially sensitive topics included in an upcoming literature assignment.

But Keith said in an interview that he had not received such a letter from his daughter’s teacher.

“I’ve spoken to probably 20 parents since I left that meeting,” he said. “No one has ever seen this letter. If this letter had been sent and it said that this book said the F-word 20 times, the book would have been called before it was read. The book about a pedophile raping his daughter was reportedly appealed before being read.

Mason Paramore, an eighth-grade student from Ayden Middle School, attended the meeting on Monday, which was a day of distance learning for students after a weekend snowstorm. Mason, 14, said in an interview that he was uncomfortable reading “Forged by Fire” in class.

“We all felt the same,” he said. “We know things like this happen in the world, and we know there are bad people out there, but we don’t need to read about it.”

Following Keith’s objection in the fall, school officials said English-language arts teachers at Ayden Middle had reconsidered the assigned reading and canceled reading plans for the rest of “Forged by Fire”, as well as “Darkness Before Dawn”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “All American Boys” and “Night”.

But Keith said on Monday what he saw as an attempt by the board to appease him had missed the mark.

“It didn’t even help Ayden Middle School next year,” he said. “If someone wants to put it in front of someone else’s daughter, they still can.”

Keith said Pitt County school libraries contain many explicit books that are not suitable for students. He declined to name specific titles, but said he planned to present examples at next month’s Board of Education meeting.

Colin L. Johnson