A committee recently determined a book taught in a McPherson High School freshman class is indeed appropriate.

A committee recently determined a book taught in a McPherson High School freshman class is indeed appropriate.

“The Glass Castle,” a memoir by Jeanette Walls, was being taught to 95 students in Cindy Marion’s pre-AP English course. It is an account of Walls’ years growing up in poverty with a dysfunctional family. This is the second year Marion has used the book in her course.

Parents spoke to the USD 418 Board of Education in early December with concerns the book might be inappropriate for 14- and 15-yeard-old students, due to foul language and implicit and explicit sexual references. Anti-religious statements also were listed as a concern.

The district policy states a book can be reviewed by a committee to determine if it needs to be removed from the curriculum. The committee consisted of Bret McClendon, McPherson High School principal; Diane Marshall, McPherson High School library and media specialist; Gentry Nixon, McPherson High School teacher; Alice Toews, McPherson High School teacher; Rhonda Wince and Amy Worm, parents from the Curriculum Coordinating Counsel; and chairwoman Angie McDonald, director of instruction.

The committee unanimously determined the book was appropriately placed in the curriculum and recommended it remain in the freshman level pre-AP English curriculum. This was because of the district’s opt-out policy, which allows all families to opt their children out of any assignment, and ask for an alternate one.

The parents of four students made this choice.

“I believe all parents have a right to help guide the education of their children,” McDonald said. “We truly want to partner with parents, so I absolutely respect the opinions of the parents who had concerns about this book or any other parents who question any matter involving their children. This is exactly why USD 418 has an opt-out policy in place.”

Although the language was strong at times and there were anti-religious references, the committee stated in their recommendation the content was pertinent to the story and its characterization. They also stated the sexual situations were not beyond the maturity level of the students.
The committee also made three other recommendations.

The first is that the book only be taught during the school year so a teacher could guide conversation around the book. The committee found that many school districts put this book on a summer reading list and the committee did not feel this was appropriate for students.

The second recommendation said the English department compile a list of books to be read each school year with information regarding which books have been challenged in schools throughout the country. The committee felt this would give parents an opportunity to research books they may feel their child should not read.

Third, the reading list should contain a reference to the board opt-out policy so parents have a formal reminder of the possibility.

After the committee sent its recommendation to Superintendent Randy Watson Jan. 4, he sent a letter to the parents who asked for the review. If any of the parents who made the formal request desire to appeal the decision of the committee and Watson, they had the right to go to the board within 30 days of the decision. No one appealed.

McDonald said she has found nowhere where the book has been banned in her research. The book will remain an option for teachers to use in curriculum next year.

“I believe in and support our teachers,” McDonald said. “Our teachers are masterful at making books come alive and guiding students toward true learning experiences through books. I believe there is a lesson in each and every book, especially in the hands of a gifted teacher.”

Parents who expressed concerns of the book to the board meeting were unavailable or declined further comment.

Contact Jenae Pauls at jenae.pauls@mcphersonsentinel.com and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel