Superintendent issues decisive vote to remove 2 pounds from Washington County schools – St George News

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The Washington County School District office at 121 W. Tabernacle St., St. George, Utah March 29, 2021 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

ST. GEORGE –A parental complaint led to the removal of two books from the shelves of libraries in the Washington County School District.

Two books were banned from Washington County School District libraries after a parent filed official protests against the books. “The Hate U Give” and “Out of Darkness” have been reviewed by library committees and found to be inappropriate for their age,
Image bank | Photo by Unsplash, St. George News

The recommendation to ban the first book, “The Hate U Give”, in local elementary and middle schools was made by a committee set up with the goal of verifying books for students in Kindergarten through 5th grade. The review committee consisted of two parents, two principals and two school media specialists, that is, librarians who are required by the district to hold a teaching qualification.

The committee determined the book is inappropriate for children who are not yet in eighth grade, with the liberal use of profanity cited among other concerns. “The Hate U Give” has won numerous awards, including the William C. Morris Award from the American Library Association and the Coretta Scott King Award for Best Children’s Novel written by an African-American author.

The second book to be banned is “Out of Darkness,” a novel distributed by middle and high schools in the district. The committee formed to review books in high schools was divided over the decision, with four members supporting its removal and four voting to leave the book on the shelves.

According to policy, it was up to Superintendent Larry Bergeson to cast the deciding vote. He did so at an afternoon business meeting held on Dec. 14 ahead of the regular school board meeting, which was dominated by school book-checking processes. Bergeson began the discussion by acknowledging that the potential ban on reading material is a sensitive topic.

“There are two underlying issues: the concern of parents, or anyone for that matter, who might have more conservative views on the content of the books, and the liberal side – freedom of speech, no censorship. or do any of those things, “Bergeson said.” And so these, like everything today, are diametrically opposed. We just have a battle along these lines. Trying to make both parties happy isn’t easy.

Bergeson voted to remove “Out of Darkness” from the Washington County School District libraries.

“Reading all this… I was depressed. It affected me a lot, ”he said. “I don’t suppose my integer barometer is much different from a lot of people in the room. When something is criminal, when something overcomes things like incest and the rape of family members seen and talked about and forced to be seen by siblings, among others, it is wrong. I can not go there. My decision is, it’s out.

District policy states that only a student, parents who have children at the school in question, or an administrator can challenge the presence of a book on a Washington County campus.

The recent review began when a parent emailed the superintendent and the school board regarding four books in the district libraries. The complaint, which was also posted on Facebook, also included the books “George,” a novel about a transgender fourth-grader, and “Suddenly One Summer,” a coming-of-age story told in novel form. graphic.

The parent, however, only filed official challenges regarding “The Hate U Give” and “Out of Darkness,” said Steven Dunham, district communications director.

Washington County schools aren’t the first to question whether “The Hate U Give,” an award-winning young adult novel by Angie Thomas, should be accessible to younger people. It landed at number 30 on the American Library Association’s list of most banned and contested books from 2010 to 2019.

The story follows the protagonist Starr, a 16-year-old African-American girl who leads a double life. She lives in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood, but attends a prep school populated by mostly wealthy white students. Starr’s life is even more complicated when she becomes the only witness to the police shooting on her best friend Khalil, an unarmed black teenager.

Those who advocate censorship of the book usually cite an abundance of profanity among their objections.

“Out of Darkness” was banned or challenged in three school districts in Texas this school year after an outraged parent – in a clip that has since gone viral – complained that the book made reference to anal sex.

Ashley Hope Pérez’s young adult novel uses true tragedy – a 1937 explosion at the New London School in Texas that left nearly 300 dead – as the backdrop for a story touching romance and racism. The protagonist, Naomi Vargas, is a Mexican American girl who attends the local all-white high school.

She faces racism at every turn and abuse at home, finding a brief respite when she falls in love with a black teenager named Wash Fuller. The Flavored Story of Romeo and Juliet was named Honorary Book of the Michael L. Printz Award.

Difficult reading

The controversy in Washington County began in late October when a parent emailed a letter to the district, which she also posted on Facebook. She complained that four books in district libraries contained “appalling / explicit” information.

“Please don’t delay in removing these books from all WCSD schools,” she wrote. “We cannot take the impact we have on students lightly and our responsibility to call for greatness in them. I firmly believe that this is done by providing children with good literature, filled with inspiring and morally strong themes and characters. As you know, what we feed our minds influences our behavior.

Dunham said that in responding to parents’ concerns, the district “followed the policy to the letter” and would continue to do so on a case-by-case basis if other books were challenged in the future. He noted that the formal book review process will be undertaken on a case-by-case basis. That being said, Dunham has his own opinions on the matter.

“I think in general book censorship is bad and it is a dangerous path to take,” he said. “I also think that parents should consider that children are not looking for library books for the evil in them. These children can search for anything on their cell phone in the palms of their hands. … I hope parents are as attentive, alert and concerned about their children’s cell phones as they are about the school library.

Superintendent Larry Bergeson, seen next to Council Member David Stirland, cast the decisive vote that resulted in the “Out of Darkness” ban, St. George, Utah December 14, 2021 | Photo by Sarah Torribio, St. George News

At the working meeting, the superintendent and board members also discussed how books can be examined more carefully, how sensitive reading material could be organized, and how to keep parents informed of what their children are reading.

Ideas included keeping certain books deemed controversial off regular shelves and only making them available to students with express parental permission. Bergeson also spoke of library software already in use in some district schools that emails parents the names of books their child has just viewed. The program is free but requires significant man-hours to get up and running, as each book has to be scanned and entered into the new system.

The district’s books may well be the subject of more scrutiny in the future, in part because of the efforts of an organization called Utah Parents United. The group, which can be called conservative, has hundreds of issues in its southern Utah chapter alone. Members seek to impact schools on a number of fronts, including tackling vaccine and mask mandates and teaching critical race theory, which in general is a movement. scholar that seeks to link racism, race and power.

United Parents of Utah website Also provides guidelines for parents hoping to ensure their children’s school libraries don’t contain books that espouse critical race theory, highlight LGBT issues, or are sexually explicit.

Dunham said banning books isn’t the only way parents can instill values ​​in their children. Instead, he said, they can use books as a starting point to have a frank conversation with children “which can lead to a positive and fruitful discussion about topics they will face as they grow into adults.” .

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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