Meridian School Board votes to remove controversial book from curriculum

Parents critical of a controversial work say the district is in need of more uplifting literature.

broberts@idahostatesman.comApril 2, 2014 

CORRECTION: Brady Kissel is the Mountain View High School student who presented 350 petition signatures to the board. This story originally misidentified her as Therese Kissel, her mother.

A novel about the challenges of a teenage Native American will stay out of Meridian School District’s curriculum while school officials look for a replacement.

Meridian trustees voted 2 to 1 to keep in place a hold on “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie. The hold was put in place a few weeks ago after some parents objected to the book.

Board members rejected a recommendation from an earlier committee that said the book should stay on the 10th grade English supplemental reading list, with parental permission required for children to read it.

Trustees made their decision after more than two hours of public testimony.

Trustees say they want school officials to look for a book covering Native American cultural issues, but written at a higher reading level than Alexie’s book. They also want the district to review its curriculum on cultural diversity, which has included the book.

Alexie’s novel tells the story of a Native American who ends up going to high school at a mostly white urban school and faces bullying and other problems.

The book makes reference to masturbation, contains profanity and has been viewed by many as anti-Christian.

Some Meridian School District parents and students cautioned the board about banning the book, while others labeled it pornographic and racist. Brady Kissel, a Mountain View High School student, brought a petition with 350 signatures asking the board to keep the book as part of the district’s curriculum.

“It is the very idea that our education is being censored,” she said.

More than 100 people came to the board meeting, with most speaking against keeping the book.

Lonnie Stiles complained that it subjects children to filthy words “we do not speak in our home.”

Stacy Lacy, a Meridian teacher, countered that the book appeals to many teenagers.

She told the story of one boy who was turned off to reading and was in summer school - a boy who was glued to his cellphone instead of doing his work. But when he got the book, he “devoured it and passed the class,” she said.

Trustees grappled with a decision. They offered three motions before agreeing on one from Anne Ritter, who momentarily stepped aside as chairman so she could offer a solution that would break the deadlock. Other motions included removing the book or allowing it to continue, but without the requirement for parental permission.

The book has faced a number of challenges in the past. It ranked No. 2 on a list of the most challenged books in the country in 2012, according to the American Library Association, but officials would not give out the number of challenges. The book was pulled from a Harpers Ferry school in West Virginia after parents complained about its content, The Associated Press reported last December.

The Boise School District has 32 copies of the book, in virtually every junior high and high school. Nampa’s district has it at Nampa and Skyview high schools. Neither district has it on supplemental reading lists.

Challenges to books are fairly rare in the Treasure Valley. Boise’s district had one three years ago, and Nampa had one in 2012.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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