Removing two copies of the novel “Him” from Sartell High School shelves will not end efforts to closely monitor instructional materials by some members of the school board.
Following an emotional school-board meeting on Jan. 23 during which several board members and parents objected to the book, the board’s members again discussed the issue at a Feb. 1 work session.
Reacting to the controversy about that book that critics called pornographic, Sartell-St. Stephen School District Superintendent Jeff Ridlehoover shared a procedure for evaluating and purchasing books in the future.
The procedure, described in detail in a 14-page document, essentially provides for more eyes on the book-purchase process and sets up options for parents who object to course materials.
Ridlehoover’s document is very detailed. He asked the board for feedback, noting the issue will be discussed again at the board’s next meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 27 at the St. Stephen City Hall.
The document details who is responsible and the criteria for selecting books and other instructional materials.
“The school board delegates to the district’s administrators, school principals and professional staff the responsibility to act on its behalf in the selection and purchase of instructional resources,” the document states and then goes on to list seven criteria. Next, the procedure lists 11 considerations in selecting classroom resources.
The document also addresses why controversial issues are discussed in school. It states the following: “Sartell-St. Stephen schools have a responsibility to include, in various curriculum areas and at all appropriate grade levels, content dealing with critical issues, some of which will be controversial. Development of rational thinking and preparation for citizenship are the primary reasons for including the study of controversial issues in the curriculum.”
If a parent objects, a committee will review the objection guided by a detailed questionnaire that seeks to focus on why there is an objection.
Ridlehoover wants to clarify how materials are chosen and perhaps avoid another of what he called “an extremely difficult week.”
Let’s hope that’s not the future. Let’s hope that Sartell schools can provide teaching materials and discuss topics that explore race, gender, economic and religious issues in a way that prepares students to be responsible citizens in a changing and diverse world.
I’m not betting on it.
Board member Jen Smith, one of the book’s critics, hit on the biggest challenge. In the future, she said, there may be books “that walk a fine line” between what parents find appropriate and what they object to. Pulling “Him” may have been an easy call, but it appears that some board members are not done making judgments about where the line falls.
Smith and fellow board member Emily Larson asked about where they can find a catalog of all books in libraries and classrooms and if in the future they can see purchase orders that list titles. There were also questions about how staff who wavered from the procedure would be held accountable and punished.
Let’s hope they don’t turn each school board meeting into another episode of “The Book Police.” We’ll see if the “Him” controversy is a one-off or the beginning of a slide down a slippery slope.
School librarians across the nation face objections to books that deal with history, race, gender, criminal justice and religion that some people find uncomfortable reading.
Sartell shouldn’t become one of those places. Sartell schools should maintain their well-earned reputation for providing a top-quality education from excellent teachers who care deeply about students and their futures.
Let’s not send the message that if you’re not white, straight and Christian, you won’t be welcomed here.