West Ada School District’s attempt to pacify both sides in the contentious debate over what to do with “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” seems to have lowered the temperature of the debate among parents.
But that may only be temporary, said Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, a 40 year-old organization that opposes efforts to restrict what people read.
School trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to restore the 10th grade book to a supplemental reading list after a nine-month suspension begun when some parents complained about its content. But Bertin finds some objections with the trustees decision to require parental permission for students to read "Part-Time Indian" in class. "It's half a loaf…three quarters of a loaf."
West Ada's decision is fraught with problems that could come back to haunt the district, she said.
Requiring parental permission puts a stigma on Sherman Alexie’s book about a Native American teen growing up on a reservation, she said. Requiring permission can send a message that is seen as an official judgment about the quality of the book — that it could be a problem, Bertin said.
She doesn’t object to parents who are opposed to a book asking for their child to have another one. But formalizing the process with a permission slip for children to read “Part-Time Indian” is troublesome, she said.
Even more worrisome to Bertin is the notion that parents can successfully pressure a school district on educational matters based on their own moral views.
Opponents to “Part-Time Indian” complained that the lead character boasts that he masturbates, uses strong language and engages in what some consider anti-Christian messages.
“Doing anything that restricts or limits access to a book because they don’t like the ideas in it — that’s a First Amendment problem,” Bertin said.
She wonders if another group of parents may focus on another book. “You open a Pandora’s Box,” she said.
"Part-Time Indian" is the only book on a sixth-through 12th grade reading list with restrictions.
West Ada trustees, who put “Part-Time Indian” back on the reading list with other restrictions, including limiting instruction to small groups and not letting the book be read aloud, say they hit the right tone.
"We have protected the right of those who are pro or those who are con to choose," said Mike Vuittonet, board chairman. "The freedom to pick and choose — that's what our country is based on."