Archive for Wednesday, September 17, 2003

We All Fall Down’ in policy, procedure

September 17, 2003

The removal of the Robert Cormier book "We All Fall Down" from the freshman orientation class at Baldwin High School last week has drawn attention far and wide. It has also raised questions at every turn.

The book was being read aloud in Joyce Tallman's class to spark discussion of teenage issues. It certainly did that. It's also done the same in Baldwin City, the region, state and nation. The Lawrence Journal-World had the "book banning" story on page 1 of its Sunday edition. The Associated Press picked up the story and it has found its way into USA Today, national public radio and plenty of television stations.

There are many reasons for that, including the irony that the Baldwin School Board will be addressing the issue of the book's removal Monday during the nationally observed Banned Books Week, which runs Saturday through Sept. 27.

But right here in Baldwin City, the removal of the book has gone far past the book itself. Many will argue for and against its inclusion in the BHS curriculum. Many will argue that it was or wasn't "banned." It's certainly a matter of semantics -- it is no longer in use in the class pending the review and it's next to impossible to find a copy of the book because of the interest in it.

Does that constitute a "ban?" Maybe, maybe not.

What has become just as big an issue is the policy for handling such matters and the procedure that was followed in removing the book. Supt. James White and Curriculum Director Connie Wehmeyer, who jointly made the decision to pull the book, both refer to the policy's "gray" areas. It isn't clear. That's why Supt. White ultimately pulled the book as "gate keeper" to the district's curriculum.

That needs to be addressed, as well as how complaints against the book brought to the attention of the administration last spring were either disregarded or not followed up on. Had a review been done at that time, this "discussion" wouldn't be taking place.

The school board has been placed in the position of deciding the book's fate. The board also needs to do a thorough review of the policy and procedures that led to its removal.

It may not be a completely black or white issue in some peoples' minds, but we certainly need something better than gray.

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