Review committee members chosen before board made policy decision
The fate of a controversial young-adult novel's use in a Baldwin High School classroom was supposed to be in the hands of a review committee this week. But that's not the case anymore.
"We All Fall Down" was supposed to be reviewed by a committee of seven to determine whether it was appropriate for use in the classroom as instructional material.
But the committee -- and the review of the Robert Cormier novel -- has been put on hold until the Baldwin Board of Education can re-work the current policy.
At the school board meeting Sept. 22 the members agreed because board policy was not clear on challenged instructional materials, a committee would be formed to review "We All Fall Down" by following board policy outlined for challenged library materials.
But following further discussion about the issue Saturday, the board reversed its decision. Board Member Alison Bauer said the board felt not everything was covered with the current policy.
"There are possible legal ramifications with that," she said.
According to the policy for challenged library materials, the building administrator -- in this case BHS Principal Allen Poplin -- was to have appointed a committee consisting of the building administrator, the curriculum director, a media specialist, two teachers and two community members from the Parent Curriculum Advisory Council to review the book.
Poplin said he had already selected a review committee following the policy. But because the Parent Curriculum Advisory Council has been defunct for several years, he said he chose two parents -- a mother and a father -- to serve on the committee.
"The Baldwin community is fortunate to have an active, interested parent group," he said.
"I chose parents who are interested in curriculum in general, those whose primary interest was not in this," he said.
Poplin had also selected a teacher with a health background and another with a language arts background to review the book because, he said, the orientation class placed an emphasis on those two subjects.
He said the committee was supposed to have met for the first time Monday. The seven committee members, he said, were to follow a list of instructions that, even though it is not a part of board policy, was completed by the committee who worked on the original policy.
The written instructions state that the school personnel who selected the item evaluate the reasons for its proposed usage, and submit it in a written report to the committee, which Poplin said had already been done.
The committee was to have read the material in its entirety and study all related materials and read available reviews. Poplin said a copy of the book and reviews from books and Web sites about "We All Fall Down" and Cormier had been given to committee members.
The instructions also state that at a committee meeting, the person who filed a complaint and those in favor of retaining the material can make oral presentations.
Poplin said because, again, the instructions weren't clear, he had made the decision that only one person would speak in favor of the book because only one person filed the complaint. He had selected a student to speak in favor of the book.
"Who have we not asked in this matter?" he said.
The final committee report, presenting both majority and minority opinions, was to have been presented to the school board by Poplin.
"This committee was chosen to give an honest and fair review of the material challenged," he said.
But the high school principal said nowhere in the instructions or board policy does it state the committee's recommendation is final.
"So we're right back where we started," he said. "I don't know how it's going to come out."
Which is why Bauer said a clear policy needed to be in place before a committee could review the book.
"It's a delay and that's unfortunate," she said. "But we need to be very careful and do everything by the book."