Archive for Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Board decides fate of controversial book

November 12, 2003

A controversial book has been returned to the Baldwin High School classroom, but will not be used as required curricular material.

The Baldwin Board of Education voted 6-1 to return Robert Cormier's "We All Fall Down" to the freshman orientation class, but only as supplemental curricular material.

"I cannot support putting the book back in the course until I'm sure the way it's used is going to be changed," Board Member Scott Lauridsen said. "What I want to avoid is making this mandatory."

The young adult novel had been read aloud in Joyce Tallman's freshman class to address the issues facing teenagers such as peer pressure, divorce and alcoholism. The book was pulled from the classroom by Supt. James White two months ago following a parent complaint about the book's explicit language and sexual references.

The board made the decision after hearing the opinions from the book review committee, which had been formed to read the book and give the board its recommendations on the book's use in the classroom.

Baldwin High School Principal Allen Poplin, who was a member of the committee, read the committee's opinions to the board.

"The majority opinion is that the novel 'We All Fall Down' should be retained in the freshman orientation class as it serves as a springboard for discussion of issues paramount to students understanding and coping with the society in which they live," Poplin read. "In addition, it serves as a relevant and timely example of young adult literature that may be used to enrich reading skills."

But he said not every member of the committee agreed with returning the book.

"It is the belief of the minority that the book 'We All Fall Down' should not be retained in the freshman orientation class in its current form," Poplin read. "Although students were exposed to some of the PASE curriculum themes, it is not clear how these critical issues are addressed.

"Furthermore, it is not clear how the reading improvement issue is addressed."

He said the committee decided the book's use in the classroom should be determined by the teacher, administrator and curriculum director.

Lauridsen said he thought a compromise on the book's use could be reached.

"I think there is a middle ground here," he said. "We can't accommodate everybody. But we can try to accommodate as many as possible."

Board President Ed Schulte agreed.

"I don't think we should not make it accessible," he said. "But I don't think it should be the only option."

Schulte made the motion to retain the novel as a resource for the freshman orientation class as optional and supplemental curricular material, not to be used a primary, required source for all students or as a mandatory read aloud in class.

Board Member Stacy Cohen, who was the lone dissenting vote in the board's decision, was in favor of following the review committee's recommendation in returning the book to the class, and not in determining how it's used.

"Let the teacher, let the administrator, let the curriculum director make those decisions," Cohen said. "That's a decision that needs to be made by the school, by the professionals of the school.

"We're making a decision on methodology and how the book should be taught when we're not all trained to be making those decisions," she said.

Alison Bauer said she agreed with Cohen, but expected many of the students to opt out of the reading if the book was required.

"If we opt out 25, 50 percent of the class, are we really being effective?" she said.

Bauer also had concerns about the number of parents and community members that had complained about the book.

"I don't want to undermine the teachers," she said. "But there's been such an outcry from the community.

"We're not all trained educators. However, we are elected by the community to be their voice."

After the meeting, Cohen said she was not pleased with the board's decision.

"While the book is back in the classroom, I'm disappointed the board failed to follow the full recommendations of the committee, demonstrating a lack of trust and faith in our faculty," she said. "In a sense, the minority opposed to this book have won. The signal is clear that the board will not support teachers who use challenging, thought-provoking material. As a result, the majority of students lose."

In other business, the school board:

  • Heard an update on the committee formed to review the board policy on challenged materials. Schulte told the board the committee met for the first time Monday.

The committee is comprised of board members Schulte and Cohen, district faculty Jane Miller, Sally Hoffsommer-Brecheisen and Donna Pratt, and district patrons Terri Johnson and Jo Ruona.

The committee will meet again at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 24.

  • Formed a budget study committee to help develop the district's budget with new ideas and address other budget issues. The committee will be comprised of two board members, two district faculty members, two district patrons and the superintendent.
  • Set a board work session meeting for Dec. 1.
  • Heard a presentation from Anita Faddis about childhood obesity and nutrition and why the district's changes to the food service program were important.

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