We've been reading lately about two very courageous teachers in the Tulsa Public School system, Nikki Jones and Karen Hendron, and how they've chosen to stand up to Superintendent Keith Ballard in defense of their young students.
Yesterday, I received an email forwarded from our Secretary, Jo Joyce containing a letter from a courageous PARENT willing to stand up to her school's administration and Board over an issue that has her gravely concerned for her child. The letter was from a friend of Jo's, Stephanie Berland, who has a child in high school in the Edmond (Oklahoma) Public School system. Stephanie became aware that her Sophomore-aged student was assigned to read two books, The Kite Runner and The Glass Castle by the English department. Upon researching the books, Stephanie became very concerned and decided the material was not appropriate for her child - but she didn't stop with that action.
I have asked Stephanie to allow me to reproduce her correspondence regarding the books. Not only do I want you to be aware of the content of these books, I want to use Stephanie's response to show you a direct, well-researched and appropriate response to her school board and community regarding her concerns. Many times parents feel helpless to combat activities or situations occurring with their children in public (government) schools - not only are they unsure of the correct channels to follow to complain or protest, but they become afraid any action they take will result in some form of punishment for their student.
The first action Stephanie took, was to research the district's policies for reading material. She then wrote an email to educate other parents and solicit assistance. Here is the body of her email:
If you are a parent/guardian of a child in a high school in the Edmond Public School District, I ask you to please read this email.
Currently, there are two books that are required to read and purchase in the English Department of high schools in Edmond, OK. They are introduced in sophomore level English. The books are titled The Kite Runner and The Glass Castle. Both of these books are on the American Library Association’s most challenged or banned book list due to their content.
The first book deals with aggravated sodomy and pedophiliac rape of both girls and boys and the latter with a racist mother sexually abusing her son and grandson, alleged molestation by an uncle to his niece, alcoholism, anti-Christianity overtones, and more adult topics.
Please take time to research/read these books, and if you feel as a parent they are appropriate for your child, then that is your choice. If you do not want your child to read these books, then I would ask you to call your principal and express your concern. Currently, there is a choice to opt out, but again, I suggest that you understand what this looks like and why parents are required to opt out of something when most didn’t even know that they were enrolled.
The Educational Board of Edmond Public Schools must abide by BP #3600 – Instructional Materials guidelines. This criteria can be found on the EPS website, using this link http://www.edmondschools.net/
AboutUs/SchoolBoard/ PoliciesandProcedures/ Instruction. Parents can fill out form 3600F to have the school re-evaluate the choice. However, I feel the district did not vet out these books by using their own established standards listed in BP #3600.
You can also express your concern by emailing or contacting your elected board member by district. To find out who your elected official is, refer to the attached map,http://www.edmondschools.net/
Lastly, I ask you to please forward this email to any parent/guardian you know that this may affect. I don’t know any other way to get this important information out to parents.
If you have any questions, please feel free to email me.
Concerned Parent,Stephanie S. BerlandThe next thing Stephanie and her husband did, was write a letter to her personal school board member asking for her concerns to be made an agenda item at the next Board meeting. Here is a copy of that letter:
I am respectfully asking the Board of Education to add an agenda item for the next meeting scheduled December 8th, 2014, at , to re-evaluate and question the process in which the books The Kite Runnerand The Glass Castle were selected for required material in the sophomore English classes at all the high schools in Edmond. Based on my understanding from the meeting on 11/21/14 at ENHS, Ms. Dana Stobbe and the committee did not take the proper steps in following BP Policy #3600, B2, Criteria for the selection of materials. In particular, these following bullet points were not documented with factual data, but merely passed with opinion by Ms. Stobbe and an undisclosed committee:
- Appropriateness of content considering developmental stage of students
- Favorable reviews in standard selection sources
- Suitability of subject, style, and reading level for intended audience
I have extensive documentation and research for the above criteria to show that these book selections should have been rejected immediately based upon criteria set forth by the Edmond Board of Education adopted 9-2-97 and revised 6-4-12.
- Varying points of view
I am also asking that if these selection materials continue to be taught, that parents be made aware of what they contain. This is not happening. Currently, there is no coherent and uniform procedure in place to make parents aware of the content or the process to “opt out” of this required material. In addition, it was noted and discussed in the meeting that the administrators were unaware that students are required not only to read, but buy these books. Again, I have copies of this requirement.
I do at some point plan to file the 3600F. However, I want to reiterate that these books were implemented unjustly and did not follow protocol set forth by the Board of Education of the Edmond Public School District.
Lastly, I encourage you to read these books. There is this “glossing over” of pornographic content by Ms. Stobbe. I read the rape by sodomy paragraph (the one I sent to you in an earlier email) in the meeting and I was met with Ms. Stobbe saying, “Well, we don’t focus in on that.” The entire book of The Kite Runner is centered on this rape and Amir trying to “redeem” himself because he did nothing. Later, Hassan’s son, Sohrab, is dressed up as woman and raped by Hassan and finally Amir fights Assef and voila ……he is redeemed. One final point and probably the most distressing to me is when I made MY “critical thinking” judgment and told Ms. Stobbe that I found the book misguided on redemption and pornographic. She was unaccepting of my opinion. I was made to wonder, just how are these children guided to “critically think?” Critical thinking is what I was told to be the goal of this book. However, my thoughts did not fit Ms. Stobbe’s narrative and I was told that I was filled with hate. I replied it was not hate, but anger. Anger at her arrogance. I told her it is not her job to teach my child about these topics. She went on to insinuate that I was naïve to think that my daughter doesn’t already know about rape and sodomy. As a parent, this is NOT her job to teach my child about these topics. We signed up for English. Coincidentally, do the students come to the same judgment of the characters in this book? If they do, that is very scary.
This book is not for high school students. Most do not have the depth or breadth of knowledge on sex, the Bible, and knowledge of Afghanistan, to make solid analysis. Moreover, they do not have their parents there. There are many more suitable books to choose from to attain this “critical thinking” skill in English class.
I appreciate your attention to this matter and I made everyone aware at the meeting of my intention to notify as many parents as I could and to contact you to act as my voice. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Sincerely,Stephanie's letter was concise, addressed to the proper individual, explained her concerns fully and demonstrated a knowledge of proper school board procedure. I have asked her to keep me informed of this situation so that I can post an update with the actions taken by the Board.
Stephanie and Bob Berland
I hope Stephanie's actions empower parents reading this blog to learn school board procedure and speak out about concerns they have with activities in their school. The parental rights legislation passed this last session recognizes the right of parents to control the education of their children, so the law is on your side. Don't allow your child to take part in teaching methods, curricula or tests with which you disagree. It's YOUR system and YOUR children - make it work for YOU and YOUR children.