Students challenge validity of USD 231 book ban policy

Lynne Hermansen
Gardner News

Seniors request Bible pulled from school bookshelves

The Bible was called into question by two Gardner Edgerton High School seniors during the USD 231 Board of Education’s May 8 meeting.

Elizabeth Fielder and Elayna Moss requested the Holy Bible be pulled from their school’s library shelves.

Moss filled out a form a week earlier requesting it be removed, stating it was inappropriate as were several scenes found within its pages. She read verses from the Bible to illustrate her point.

“If we were banning books based on inappropriate content it would be hypocritical not to ban all books with this content,” she said.

Moss said complaints were made during the April board meeting that the inappropriate books were grooming students.

“Our teachers do not groom kids by handing out a book,” she said. “They help us learn and become the individuals that we are.”

Moss said accusations of grooming drove teachers out of schools.

Fiedler said she was a firm believer in always listening to her opponents’ views.

“After much reflection, I agree there are some things children shouldn’t see,” she said. “I think everyone can agree that some things shouldn’t have a place in the school.”

Fiedler said she took it upon herself to challenge that book, which was was the Holy Bible.

“This book contains some of the most morally reprehensible content,” she said. “And I will respect the public body and not go into explicit detail.”

Fiedler said, however, the book went into explicit detail of various sexual acts, citing examples.

“No one should get to cherry-pick based on their own ideologies of which books belong in schools,” she said.

Fiedler said she would never believe books with just a few fragments of taboo, inappropriate and explicit subjects should be challenged or banned.

“The Bible belongs in schools as well as all these other books,” she said.

Instead, Fiedler said, the district should equip students with the skills to analyze content, stating no one should use their religious beliefs to challenge or shape a student’s education.

“We are old enough to decide our own ideologies,” she said.

Fiedler said the district was losing educators at an alarming rate, but they were still pretending nothing was happening.

“The reason is plain and simple,” she said. “We no longer trust educators.”

The teachers the district was losing was the result of individuals fighting over their competency rather than disciplining their own kids.

Fiedler said officials were not acknowledging the bigger problems in the high school such as vaping and drug use.

“We have admin who are threatened by a book being challenged that matches their own ideology then books being actively removed from our libraries,” she said. “While the superintendent is telling English teachers to buck up instead of defending them.”

When they lose staff members, Fiedler said, they remove the students’ abilities to trust that the adults in the building are there for them and that they will stay for them.

“But it is unfair that we expect staff members to endure all of this,” she said. “We are suffering as a student body because of your decisions,” she said.

Superintendent Dr. Brian Huff said he recently met with several community members, English and language arts teachers and librarians about the book review process to give them the opportunity to share their voices. Huff said he would offer the same opportunities to anyone wishing to speak to the board.

“Three minutes isn’t nearly enough to speak to the board to get across all your concerns,” he said.

“This is a very difficult time to be a staff member,” he said.

Huff said he would like to continue to encourage reading.

“We would like to continue to offer books in the classroom even though it is uncomfortable,” he said. “So the quote about me earlier was partially correct.”

Huff said he had asked staff members to stand up in the face of opposition and offer literature to their students.

“Just because it is hard doesn’t mean it is not important,”he said. “We are here to support our staff members in that endeavor. We want our students to have the opportunity to read.”

Sometimes, he said, it is difficult to fight the battle.

“We also know there are some materials that are somewhat questionable to our community,” he said. “I have said this several times over the last several months and I will say it again, that our job is to determine what the vast majority of our community deems as inappropriate, so when we define what appropriate is in our libraries and our curriculum, it’s really about what 70 percent of our community would deem what appropriate is.”

He said the school board’s job was to define what that appropriateness and definition was based on community input.

“So this board has a tough job,” he said.

Huff said the board will be reviewing the book “Winter Girls” in June, followed by “Tricks” in October and the Bible in late fall.

“We are committed to following the process as it is laid out,” he said.

Following the meeting, Huff said the Holy Bible had only been checked out from Gardner Edgerton High School three times this school year.

Ultimately, he said, the decision will be up to the board. He added the library does not currently have copies of other religious books, such as the Quran, but people were more than welcome to request having them.

In an email, Board President Tom Reddin stated the board would treat the Bible like the other books members review.

“It will go before the committee and then to the board for a vote,” he said. “As with any other book, my decision will be determined on what educational qualities the overall message of the book delivers.”

At this point, Reddin said, two books have gone through the process, and both were voted to remain in the school library.

“The next book coming to us will be “Wintergirls,” which I just finished yesterday,” he said. “While I cannot speak for the rest of the board, my vote will be to keep “Wintergirls” in the school library. It should be noted that while going through the review process, books are not pulled from shelves.”

Students, parents and community members have called into question the district’s policy, claiming it was ineffective because it allowed individuals and political organizations to influence the school’s curriculum. Instead, they said they would like to see content concerns addressed on an individual, case-by-case basis which doesn’t affect the entire district.

Reddin said the district operated on a policy that had been in place before he joined the school board and was being discussed by the policy review committee.

“The misconception about this policy is that it gives one person the right to say what others can or cannot read,” he said. “This simply isn’t true. The current policy gives one person the ability to voice their concern. Once they have done so, it goes through a few levels of (administration), the policy review committee (12 people) and then the board of education (seven people). Could the policy be tweaked? Possibly. We will see what the committee discusses and brings to the board.”

In the meantime, Reddin said, he represented the entire community and no voice was too big or too small.

“I am open to listen to the concerns of anyone,” he said. “Will that person always get what they as an individual want? Not necessarily, but they will be heard.”

Books came into question for their content at the beginning of the school year last September when parent Carrie Schmidt voiced her concerns about one book, “The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie.

As a parent, Schmidt said, she wanted to trust that the school was going to select appropriate books for children to read. She didn’t request for it to be banned from the district, but for it to be removed from the required reading list.

Schmidt said she never anticipated her desire to have parents and school authorities actually read the content their children were being introduced to in school would lead to a year-long discussion on book banning.

Schmidt said, however, she was not surprised the Bible was being challenged.

“It is a person’s right to submit a book review to the school district,” she said. “However, I do hope that this student retracts their submission, as it is unfortunately making a mockery of the review process.”

Schmidt said she has full faith the Bible will stay in the district.

“I cannot see our board members going against having a book about God’s teachings and history in our school,” she said. “It’s actually the most important book we have. In my opinion, we should have a copy of the Bible in every school. Our community especially needs it right now with all of the drugs and physical fights that are occurring in the high school. It needs to be said that the content in the Bible is nothing like the content that is in the seven books that the administrators pulled.”

Schmidt said no one should be blindly supporting a cause without knowing what is in the books.

“And that appears to be what is happening,” she said.

Schmidt said she hopes administrators stand tall knowing there are those who support them in their decision to take out what she described as sexually explicit, pornographic material from the district.

“I applaud them for standing up and seeing that the books were inappropriate for our children to have readily available to read,” she said.