Parents ask Minn. school district to remove Sherman Alexie book from curriculum
NEW LONDON — Objections from several parents about the content of a book assigned to eighth-grade English students in the New London-Spicer School District could result in the removal of the book from the school's curriculum.
Others who praised the book hope to keep it in the classroom.
The decision to review the book will be up to the district's advisory committee, but at the very least, the school district will try to better inform parents when their children may be exposed to sensitive material.
At issue is the book "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian."
Written by Sherman Alexie in 2007, the young adult novel has been the subject of parental criticism and the target of school bans in other districts, but has also been the winner of numerous awards and the recipient of praise by many educators and parents.
During a brief listening session Monday at the NLS School Board meeting, two individuals read prepared statements citing their objections to the book and asked that it be removed from the students' required reading list.
Jessica Conlin said while several themes in the book have value, she and her husband, Dave, object to its inclusion in the school curriculum because it contains "gratuitous and unnecessary" profanity and reference to sexual acts.
"Parents have the right to teach their own values to their children regarding these topics and have assurance that a classroom teacher would teach those same values," Conlin said.
She said contents of the book are in conflict to the district's own code of student conduct which could "create confusion in the mind of the child."
In his comments, Carroll Sarsland said "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" should be replaced with a book that "does not contain passages that conflict with the traditional family values held by many in this community."
Sarsland also said parents should have been notified in advance about the assigned book.
He said when two parents did contact the administration to object to the book, their children were "punished" by being forced to sit in the hallway while the class discussed the book.
In a written response provided Wednesday, NLS Communications Director Megan Field said alternative lesson plans are used when parents object to certain materials and students "may need to be relocated" away from the classroom to complete their work.
"This is not done as a form of punishment but rather as a way to respect the wishes of their parents," she said.
Field said the district "values and understands" parents' role as decision-makers for their own households and works to "accommodate all family values while engaging learners" but that banning a book in the school is "separate from a parent making a decision for their own household" and requires a certain procedure under the district's policy.
Field said the school district will work to implement a "more inclusive and proactive approach" for making parents aware that students may be exposed to sensitive material.
As is the case with all issues presented during the public comment period, the School Board did not respond to the issue at the meeting but provided forms for the individuals to fill out as part of the process for the district to consider removal of material from the curriculum or library.
Once those official forms are returned, they will be reviewed by the district's advisory committee, which includes parents, teachers and school administrators.
If the committee recommends some kind of action should be taken regarding use of the book, that would be presented to the school board at a future date, Field said.
The committee will have to weigh the concerns of parents who object to the book alongside praise for the book from other parents.
In a letter the board received March 26, Mark Peterson said the book "intentionally deals with many difficult issues facing young students" and lets them know they are not alone.
Peterson said there are "good outcomes" from reading books like "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian."
He said "there is currently a pushback from a small number of parents who want to censor this book to prevent their children — and other children — from these positive outcomes."
Peterson said this book is "worth defending" and that censorship needs to be opposed.