Archive for Wednesday, October 1, 2003

School board decision draws some criticism

October 1, 2003

Jeanne Scott is not happy with some of the decisions the Baldwin Board of Education has been making recently.

Scott, a Baldwin High School language arts teacher, said she is displeased the board reversed its decision Saturday to have a committee begin reviewing a challenged book.

"No book should be judged on excerpts," she said. "There should be a committee reviewing it."

The school board agreed Sept. 22, in front of several news media and about 100 district patrons and faculty, that a committee would review "We All Fall Down" and make a recommendation about its use in the freshman orientation class.

But on Saturday morning, the board reversed its decision, putting off a review of the Robert Cormier novel until a new district policy is approved.

Review committee

Scott was supposed to be one of the seven members of the book review committee. She said she had been asked by BHS principal Allen Poplin last Tuesday to serve on the committee as one of the two teachers required in the policy.

In preparation for what was supposed to be the first review committee meeting Monday night, Scott said she read the provided packet of background information on the author and reviews of the young-adult novel. She even went so far as to read two other Cormier novels.

"I intended to go into this with a very open mind and talk about what was in the reviews, talk about what were the concerns and talk about whether the book fit the curriculum," she said.

"Because I work, I had everything ready to go for the meeting Monday," she said. "I think it's a slap in the face to spend as much time as I spent and then not have the committee."

Supt. James White said the board discussed the book and the review committee at Saturday's meeting, which had been recessed from Monday.

He said the discussion came following concerns from Board Member Scott Lauridsen about the current policy outlining the review committee.

White said the policy states the seven-member committee will include two community members from the Parent Curriculum Advisory Council. The advisory council has been defunct for several years.

"That seemed to void out that committee and void out that policy," he said.

Board Member Alison Bauer said the school board wants to make sure everything is done correctly.

"I know the community wants to see a resolution and I know the board does too," she said. "We just need to do this right."

Bauer said the board did not have all of the correct information when it made its original decision.

"We were told the instructions to the committee members were part of the policy, and they weren't," Bauer said. "As board members, we don't like to second guess ourselves, but we're operating with a thing that wasn't really board policy.

"I offer my personal apology," she said. "We were under pressure to act (Monday) because of public outcry."

Public's knowledge

Scott said she didn't have a problem with the board re-working the policy, but felt it was handled poorly by being discussed at a recessed meeting originally planned for discussion for a phone system.

"I could not imagine the board would discuss an issue of this importance without notifying the public," she said. "After the media frenzy Monday night, it's hard to imagine the board would discuss something of great importance, something that's not on their agenda, without anyone knowing about it."

Because the review committee was scheduled to meet Monday, White said the board needed to discuss its concerns and questions at its recessed meeting Saturday and decide how it wanted to proceed. He said the book issue was able to be discussed because the meeting had been recessed from Monday.

"Anyone that was there understood it was recessed," he said. "It's not like it's the first recessed meeting we've ever had."

Bauer said it was never the board's intent to hide information from the public.

"We really don't want to act out of the public eye," she said. "We just didn't want this to go down the wrong road any further."

Bauer said the board will discuss a new policy at the Oct. 13 meeting. She said the book would be reviewed by a committee once the board agreed on a new policy.

Scott said she wants to have a committee review the book.

"I think professionals with some community input need to make a decision," she said. "It shouldn't be left to the board."

But she said she's afraid the book might never have the opportunity to be reviewed.

"The worst case scenario I can imagine is that the book would be eliminated because of curriculum changes before it's ever reviewed," she said.

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