There was a student at Hale who went to her parent with concerns over a book being used in her child's LA class. The book was Brave New World written in 1931 by Aldous Huxley. The parent and student are Native Americans. (Just to interject here; I mistakenly thought there was no Board policy attached to this review and I simply erred in not scrolling down the page. My apologies.)
Basically if a parent or guardian has an issue with instructional materials they are to go to the principal and staff member first. If that fails, any party at step 1 may request the administrator in Charge of Curriculum and Instruction meet with those involved to resolve the issue. After step 2, the principal shall furnish the party not in agreement with a copy of the "Request for Reconsideration of Instructional Materials" form. When that is received, a "Reconsideration Commitee, is formed to reconsider the material. (The committee is made up of a parent of a child at the grade level involved but not from the school involved, member of C&I department, 1 elementary/secondary principal but not from school involved, 2 elementary/secondary teachers (if class material) or librarians (if library material) but not from school involved.
The Committee considers and then reaches a decision and communicates that in writing to the complainant and the principal of the school affected. That decision can be appealed to the Superintendent or principal within 10 working days. Superintendent reviews and issues a written decision and that decision is final for supplementary materials/library materials. Basic instructional materials may be appealed to the Board. And that's where we end.
This all started in March of this year.
Hale's principal, Jill Hudson, did meet with the parent, Sarah Sense-Wilson. She had sent a letter of apology to Ms. Sense-Wilson. She also invited Ms. Sense-Wilson and other Native Americans to provide her staff with cultural sensitivity training and it took place at the school (this was in April 2010).
Ms. Sense-Wilson then went to the district about the issue. According to the timeline, Ms. Sense-Wilson asked "that it be removed as required curriculum and that an apology letter be published in the Nathan Hale newspaper." The Reconsideration Committee was formed but both parties wrote letters read to the Committee as the Nathan Hale teachers "opted" out of attending.
In May the Committee was scheduled to meet but one parent couldn't come. So another parent rep had to be secured and the meeting rescheduled. This dragged into June. The Committee met and reviewed the evidence. The vote was 3-2 in favor of removing the text from the adopted list for all schools. (This seems to not have been stated last night but I hasten to say that none of the participants spoke clearly into the microphone. I could have missed something.)
The day after staffer Holly Ferguson determined the Committee had overstepped its bounds and could only recommend its removal for Hale. (In reviewing the policy, it doesn't really say what the Committee can do except "reconsidering the material in question" and "reach a decision". )
The next day Ms. Sense-Wilson and the Committee were informed of this decision. The Committee met by phone a week later to reconsider their decision. Again, the vote was 3-2 in favor of removing it from Hale's reading list.
Then the timeline shows that Ms. Vasquez sent Ms. Sense-Wilson a letter, telling her of the outcome and apprising her of the right to appeal the decision. The official timeline ends there by obviously Ms. Sense-Wilson appealed; it is unclear.
There is a letter from Ms. Sense-Wilson from the initial complaint where she explains why her daughter was upset. She is careful to say she felt Hale was a "progressive, innovative and liberal school but now I am seeing another side of the oppressive nature of the academic culture at Nathan Hale." She acknowledges a good conversation and apology from who I believe is an LA teacher at Hale. She also points out that at Hale's diversity day there is no acknowledgment of Native Americans. (That seems almost impossible for where we live but there you are.)
Also included is Dr. Hudson's letter of apology from April where she says they never intentionally meant to hurt or offend. I think it is a fine letter.
The LA department at Hale also has a letter stating it will no longer feature Brave New World in their third quarter of LA. They state "We have come to understand that to correctly teach this book to a young audience involves challenges that are greater than we had formerly anticipated." They believe it is a good book for the integration of materials they are trying to teach but that the "cultural insensitivity embedded in this book makes it an inappropriate choice....".
There are minutes from the Committee. They note that the word "savage" is used 30+ times. They also state that they are there to determine if the text should be taught, NOT if NH staff mis-taught. One of the best questions asked was "Can we meet set of conditions needed to teach it?" Also there was concern over censorship. "What will mitigate majority of teaching force is white and dominant in K-12?"
There follows letters explaining the decision, the district's re-reading of the Board policy, the revote, the appeal to ban the book entirely from the reading list (not the school or summer optional reading list) and other supporting docs. Apparently the summer break stopped the process and so the letter from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is dated Sept. 8th. She stated she did not support the removal of the book from the approved list. She did offer that the district was working with LA teachers and to "identify texts that address complex cultural issues" as well as other steps they would take (but gave no timeline).
Then Ms. Sense-Wilson apparently contacted the principal at Ballard to ask how they handle the book. (I'm thinking her daughter may have transferred to Ballard which also uses BNW.) The letter, from Keven Wynkoop, is in the supporting materials. He states, "After meeting with Mr. Kelly and Ms Vasquez, I feel that it is important to consider the use of this book with greater nuance than whether it should or should not be taught at Ballard." He states that their department wants to take two sub days to work on the lessons to make this happen and that she can come and discuss these lessons.
Ms. Sense-Wilson answers that there are multiple concerns beyond the use of the book. Meaning, what is happening in US History and US Government that would support the use of the book?
The Board scheduled 30 minutes to address this and I knew it wouldn't work. Their work, whether a committee meeting or Work session, always seems rushed and this was no different. There was testimony by Ms. Sense-Wilson, her daughter and a couple of other Native American adults (who were not properly identified). Ms. Vasquez testified for the district.
My notes reflect that Ms. Sense-Wilson didn't want a ban but clearly she does for BNW's use in the SPS LA book list. Apparently most of the Board had read the review but none of them had read BNW. (No one even picked up the book and looked? Good grief.) Ms. Sense-Wilson said the NA woman who served on the adoption committee was not known within the NA community.
Her daughter mentioned other books that had the same theme that could be used. One of the NA adults mentioned that for NA teens these are very sensitive topics. He said NA have the highest suicide rate in the country (and a character in the book kills himself), the highest drop-out rate, highest unemployment rate and second highest incarceration rate.
There was also a teacher (but I don't know from what school) who had a list of statements from 11th and 12th graders in history class about Native Americans. It was very ignorant and appalling. I don't know if the students were trying to be funny or truly knew nothing but if this is what they know, then I can see the problem using Brave New World without some kind of context and guidance.
Ms. Vasquez went over how the adoption committee had done its work. (There are 74 texts vetted and approved, she stated.) She said that there were other challenging texts like Huck Finn, Bluest Eye and The Color Purple. (None of those are satire combined with complex themes.)
The head of the LA department at Ballard also spoke. He stated that in the past they had not done enough to put the book in context but wanted (is) ensuring the curriculum to do that.
Betty spoke of her concern over these issues as she is a person of color and has personally and with her children experienced these issues. She did ask why they didn't go to anyone who works for the district at the Native American Heritage school. No real answer.
Sherry asked if there were any satirical texts about white people and Ms. Vasquez cited the graphic novel, Maus. (Charlie and I were a bit startled as we do not know this book to be satire - it is the author's account of his father's history during WWII as a Jew. He does make all Jews mice and all Germans cats but that wasn't satire.) Sherry stated that a teacher might not know one word was upsetting to a student.
What I feel Ms. Vasquez did was shoot herself in the foot. She kept saying the curriculum mapping was "coming" but clearly, the work is not ready. And yet they keep using the text. Kay tried to give her an out, telling her maybe they could give the teachers a simple foundation to give context and nuance but Ms. Vasquez waved that off. She also made it sound like every school was creating its own curriculum map. She also stated that most of the LA teachers are white and may not have the background to make these adjustments.
Yes, and all the more reason to not use a text that you do not have the competency to teach.
I do not want to ban any book.
But if the district admits that some books are more challenging than others, admits the work is not done around the professional development to teach the more challenging books and admits the teachers may not have the cultural competency to teach it, well, then suspend its use until at least some of that is done.
I do not challenge teachers' ability to teach the text nor that somehow the wording used in BNW has eluded them. But clearly there are issues and if there is little awareness of who is sitting in their classes, then it's an issue. I also believe that despite the outward sophistication of our teens, they are still developing people who don't have the life experience and knowledge basis to grasp all that they are reading. If the teachers are not ready to guide them properly, then suspend the use of the book until they are.
Naturally, the Board ran out of time to deliberate and so set this aside without a statement of when they will announce their decision. (They may have told the parties privately but they didn't announce anything.)