Backlash over controversial book continues

Parent: Students use drugs, have sex in high school bathrooms
Brian Spicer tells the Cape Henlopen School Board July 10 that profanity is common among high school kids and removing a book for profanity will make no difference. BY MELISSA STEELE
July 15, 2014

Response to Cape Henlopen school board's removal of a book from a ninth-grade summer reading list continued July 10 when a parent told board members profanity in a book is the least of their problems.

Parent Janet Maher said the board should be more concerned with high school students having sex or doing drugs in school bathrooms.

Her child is afraid to use high school bathrooms "because she'll find someone smoking pot, doing Molly (a form of the drug ectasy) or having sex,” Maher said. “She doesn't want to be in the bathroom and be accused of doing that.”

Maher said she knows there are other parents concerned about this, but she doubts others would go on record with their concerns.

Maher also said she doubts the board took “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” off the summer reading list for ninth-graders because of profanity. Instead, she said, she believes they banned it because the main character is a young, gay girl.

“I don't think they're comfortable with the content,” she said.

Maher said her daughter worries that if the board continues to take books out of the curriculum she may be ill-prepared for Advanced Placement or other tests. Earlier this year, a parent questioned content in Aldous Huxley's “A Brave New World.” After a committee reviewed the book, Cape High Principal Brian Donahue said the school will continue to use it in AP classes but will offer options for students who do not want to read the book.

The F-word is something Maher said her daughter hears on a regular basis throughout school hallways and at sporting events, not just in the book that was removed from the reading list.

Speaking to the board July 10, Cape student Brian Spicer said taking a profanity-laced book off a reading list is not going to change the way kids speak.

“You hear profanity all the time,” he said. “Kids curse just to curse.”

Officials to investigate charges

Superintendent Robert Fulton said he intends to look into Maher's allegation that students are doing drugs and having sex in school bathrooms. Cape High Principal Brian Donahue said he also will look into the allegation, but nothing had been reported up until this point.

Board member Sandi Minard, one of six members who voted to remove the book from the reading list, said she has asked administrators specifically about drug use and sexual activity by students during school hours.

“I go through the steps and try to find out answers, and I'm told nothing's going on,” she said.

Minard said she finds it ironic a parent supporting a book that contains profanity and sexual activity would be surprised that students are doing those activities in school.

She also said if a vote to reinstate “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is brought up at the next board meeting, she intends to vote no again. Minard said she believes the board was within its right to vote to remove the book.

“It had nothing to do with a child coming out who realizes she's gay,” said Minard, who read the book after the board removed it and is reading it for the second time. She said 10 people complained to her about the content.

Board Vice President Roni Posner requested the board reopen a review process for the book to consider putting the book back on Cape's reading list.

Posner, a gay woman and the only person who voted against taking the book off the reading list, said she disagrees with outside criticism that the Cape school board removed the book as a result of homophobia.

“I don't know where that came from,” she said.

Burton defends vote

Board member Jen Burton said she has read the book, and while it is beautifully written, she said profanity-laced prose is inappropriate for young students.

She said the leap to accuse her of homophobia when her issue was with the book's profanity is unfounded.

“It's hurtful to be accused of being a homophobe,” Burton said. “People in society are quick to judge.”

Burton said as she was receiving angry emails calling her a homophobe, two gay men were visiting her family and staying in her home.

The mother of two teenagers said she is well aware of how kids speak to one another – profanity is rife, and kids routinely push the boundaries. Still, she said, students should be challenged to learn words besides profanity and read material that does not emphasize them.

Local radio show host Susan Monday also criticized the board July 10 for removing the book and said she believes the board has an issue with the content of the book, not the profanity. Particularly, she said, because other books on the list also use profanity.

“If you're going to get rid of this book, there are a hell of a lot of other books you'll have to get rid of,” she said.

Monday also played a clip from her 105.9 show in which former Cape High students and 2013 valedictorian Matthew Spicer called in to share how he felt uncomfortable while at Cape Henlopen High School because of his sexuality. Matthew Spicer came out in college and said if he had the chance to read “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” in high school it would have been a comfort to him.

Bullying and name calling was “pretty representative of my time there,” he said, during a taped recording of the radio show.

Librarian asks board to reconsider

Maggie Cyr, Dover Public Library director and Delaware Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee chair, said the Blue Hen List is created by librarians across the state in an effort to encourage students to read throughout the summer months.

She asked the board to reconsider its decision and to increase the number of books on the district's list.

Cyr said a panel of children selects the books that make the list. Only young adult literature written within the past three years with at least two positive reviews in a literary journal is included on the Blue Hen List, Cyr said. Titles are nominated by parents, teachers, librarians, children and other community members. A group of children from age 1, representing the youngest readers, to 17 for the older readers then vote on the titles; winners are placed on the list.

“The purpose is to entice children to read current, popular literature,” she said.

Cyr said she was not sure how the use of profanity is factored in when books are nominated.  The use of profanity depends on the context, time period and culture reflected in the story, she said.

“Librarians consider the book as a whole, instead of isolating pieces of it,” she said.

Cyr said she was unsure how many other school districts, if any, use the list for recommended ninth-grade reading. Indian River School District uses a list for incoming freshmen that includes “Lord of the Flies,” “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” "The Blind Side," "Tuesdays with Morrie" and “Romeo and Juliet,” according to a list provided by David Maull, district spokesman.

Donahue said a group of high school educators chose the Blue Hen List for Cape's summer reading program.

"The purpose of the summer reading list was to provide a variety of award-winning and interesting genres for young adults to accommodate a diverse student population," he said.

Students could choose one or two books from a list of nine and reflect on the reading, he said.

Minard said she has not found any other school district that uses the list. “As a school board member, I do not feel recommending this book is right, and I don't care whose credentials are behind it.”

Andy Lewis, who recently replaced Spencer Brittingham as board president, said he is OK if a book is controversial or dark, if the board knows about the content and can advise others on it.

“That says we're informed and know, and we're letting you make an informed decision,” he said.

Lewis said he voted to pull the book from the list for procedural reasons after parents complained about profanity. There were no complaints about the other books on the list, and it is unclear who in the Cape district approved the reading list, he said.

“You have to be able to justify why you put it on a list and it's OK,” Lewis said.

“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” will be on the board's July 24 meeting agenda.

On the Blue Hen list

Books on the Blue Hen list, recommended for summer reading by Delaware school librarians, are

"The Miseducation of Cameron Post" by Emily Danforth

"The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green

"Butter" by Erin Jade Lange

"Daughter of Smoke & Bone" by Laini Taylor

"The Scorpio Races" by Maggie Stiefvater

"March" by John Lewis

"If You Find Me" by Emily Murdoch

"More Than This" by Patrick Ness

"Eleanor and Park" by Rainbow Powell

"Boxers" by Gene Luen Yang and Lark Pien.

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