Following complaint, SD2 holds hearing on Sherman Alexie novel

2013-11-08T17:45:00Z 2013-11-11T22:07:12Z Following complaint, SD2 holds hearing on Sherman Alexie novelBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A mother upset by the selection of a young-adult novel that deals frankly with life on an American Indian reservation is asking School District 2 for a second time to remove the novel from its required reading list.

The book, Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” winner of the 2007 National Book Award, is on the list of required reading for sophomore English classes in SD2 and is taught in some classrooms.

A committee of SD2 trustees will discuss the book and its place in the classroom during a special meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday in the Lincoln Center board room.

Gail Supola first brought her concerns over the book’s content to Skyview High’s principal, Deb Black, in May. Black directed Supola to Kim Anthony, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction.

Community members with concerns about books, films and other media being used in the classroom may file an official request with Anthony’s office that a specific text be reviewed.

‘Opt-out’ policy

The district also has an “opt-out” policy to replace one book or movie with another for students who find a specific text objectionable.

In her request to the district last May, Supola wrote that Alexie’s book is “filled with racial slurs, inappropriate language, sexual innuendo, and explicit sexual descriptions. This book does nothing to educate our children about the positives in Native American life, culture, traditions, beliefs and abilities.”

But she’s concerned also that the district doesn’t do enough to let parents know ahead of time that some of the books on the required reading list have mature content.

“We need a clearer path,” she said on Friday.

“They can do a lot better.”

If the committee chooses to keep the book on the required reading list, Supola is hopeful the district will at least do a better job of marking which books have mature content.

Appropriate text

The district’s curriculum review committee met in late May after reading the book and reviewing critical analysis of the text and ruled unanimously that it was an appropriate text for the classroom.

The committee found that the book “demonstrates the characters’ struggles with many issues that are still relevant today. The style of writing is humorous, sometime irreverent and portrays (the main character’s) own life struggles and trials in a public school setting.”

On the committee were a parent and six district employees, including Dulce Whitford, SD2’s director of Indian education and an American Indian.

Through the book, “the reader develops an understanding of the many dimensions of human experience,” they wrote.

Supola appealed that decision and an ad hoc committee formed by the school board will hear discussion on the book and the appeal Monday night.

Supola is joined by five other parents and will be at the meeting to make her case.

“We’re not radicals,” she said. “We’re not book-burners or book-banners.”

Also at the meeting will be supporters of the book and members of the community who believe the text has a place in the classroom.

“This book has been challenged quite a few times in Montana,” said Amy Cannata, communications director for ACLU Montana. “The book speaks to students in a way others don’t.”

Cannata sympathized with Supola as a parent, saying she has every right to decide what is and what isn’t appropriate for her son to read.

“But she doesn’t have the right to decide what other students read,” she said.

“I don’t want someone else telling me what I can’t read.”

The committee meeting Monday night is made up of board trustees Travis Smith, Janna Hafer and Kevin Toohill. They will have the option to rule on the appeal at the meeting or refer to the issue to full board.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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