Cape throws book at reading list

Students can choose any book they want to read
July 29, 2014
Harry Metcalfe addresses the Cape Henlopen school board July 24, speaking against a controversial book that had been removed from a high school reading list. BY MELISSA STEELE

Cape Henlopen school board voted 6-1 to withdraw a recommended reading list for incoming freshmen, but not before reinstating a book that had been removed from the list in June.

The board also decided students may read any book they choose to complete assignments for honors and college prep students. Honors students previously had been required to read two books from a recommended list before entering ninth grade; college prep students were required to read one.

Board member Spencer Brittingham made the motion at the July 24 meeting to remove the reading list requirement, but he amended the motion after board member Alison Myers suggested putting “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” back on the list before tossing out the list.

“What we did was the right thing,” Brittingham said. “You can't please everyone, but I think we did the best thing for students.”

The summer reading list for incoming freshman was new this summer, Brittingham said. Before this summer, he said, there was no list.

“Our initial foray was not successful, so we'll have to move forward,” he said.

Only board member Noble Prettyman voted against withdrawing the reading list, although he was one of the six who voted in June to remove “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” from the list. In June, board Vice President Roni Posner cast the only vote against removing the book from the summer reading list.

Posner questioned her fellow board members why “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” – a story about a young, gay girl – was removed for profanity when other books on the list contained profanity.

“This was the only book that we received complaints about,” said board President Andy Lewis. He said he voted to remove the book because there was no policy on how the book was placed on the list.

ACLU alleges improper procedures

Fallout from the board's decision to remove the book has continued with the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware weighing. Richard Morse, ACLU of Delaware legal director, said in a press release that removing the book is a violation of the Freedom of Information Act because the board did not inform the public they were going to take action on the book. He also said the board cannot remove a book because it disagrees with a book's ideas.

"Schools have a legal obligation to allow the free and open exchange of ideas and information," he said. "Removing a book for those reasons violates students' First Amendment rights and stifles academic freedom."

Board member Sandi Minard said in a previous interview that it is within a  board member's rights to call for a vote on an issue if a situation arises.

During the July 24 meeting, Minard began reading a 10-page compilation of profanity, instances of drug use and sexual details found within the book before saying those were her reasons for voting to remove the book.

“It's not because the main character is gay … the book is not age-appropriate,” she said.

Board member Jen Burton said her decision was not made because the main character was gay; she agreed the amount of profanity in the book was unacceptable.

In the future, Burton said, the district should create its own reading list for incoming freshman.

"I am going to make sure a new policy is clear about age-appropriate material," she said. "We must be mindful of our policies. We didn't have a summer reading list policy."

In an earlier interview, Principal Brian Donahue said a group of high school educators decided to use the Blue Hen List created by state librarians for Cape's summer reading list. The Blue Hen list is made up of contemporary, young adult literature intended to keep students reading throughout the summer months.

Citizens offer differing views

Harry Metcalfe and his wife, Celeste, were part of a group of parents who took issue with the language and sexually explicit nature of “The Miseducation of Cameron Post.” Throughout the nearly 500-page book conversations are laced with profanity; the main character, Cameron, has several sexual relationships explained in detail, and drug and alcohol use are commonplace.

"You have to think of the children when you pick out the books," Celeste Metcalfe said.

Parent Jaclyn Hesson also took issue with the message the book could send to young people.

"She's promiscuous, drinks all the time and does drugs," Hesson said. "Are we pulling students up, or are we just handing them stuff?"

While the Metcalfes and Hesson represented about half of 50 people who attended the meeting, just as many continued to support the book and the message it offers for gay students.

Recent Cape graduate Madison Bacon said gay kids are bullied in school, and "The Miseducation of Cameron Post" could help them handle adversity.

"It is a wonderful book. When I heard you removed it, it made me very sad," she said.

Others in the audience said the school board's vote to remove the book is evidence of discrimination.

"In my opinion you're discriminating against a group of people I represent," said Joan Deaver, a member of Sussex County Council.