Opt-out policy disregards student voices

Over the past several weeks, the CVUSD board has been embroiled in a controversy over a new policy for approving Core Literature. Not only does this policy outline a new selection process for approving Core Literature novels, but it also creates an opt-in policy requiring parents to essentially sign a permission slip for their children to read books in class.

The controversy over books began in the summer when the board voted to approve the book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” for ninth grade curriculum. Bringing this novel to attention rallied community members on both sides in a fervor that translated into the debate over the opt-out policy. Because the book contains mature content, it prompted board president Mike Dunn to create a committee of teachers, community members and board members to draft an opt-out policy for parents. After weeks of work by the committee, board clerk Sandee Everett disregarded the carefully-drafted policy to adopt her own, according to a KCLU radio piece.

Rather than being an opt-out for concerned parents, Everett’s policy reads like an opt-in. It requires parents to sign a form approving their children reading material that is considered to contain “mature content” by the California Department of Education.

Several students from NPHS, WHS and TOHS attempted to speak about their objections to the policy during the board meeting on Nov. 7. These students were met with yelling from people in the crowd, many of whom do not have children in the district or do not live in the district. These are the people who say they have the best interests of the students at heart, yet their disrespect for student opinion is appalling.

Due to backlash at the Nov. 7 board meeting, Everett had an emergency meeting with the original committee on Nov. 13, agreeing to make amendments to her policy. However, the updated policy was not released before the board deliberated and passed it in a 3-1 vote the following day; board member Pat Phelps was absent. Although Everett plans to fix the problematic wording of the policy, as pointed out line-by-line by board member Betsy Connolly during the meeting, this hasty vote and lack of transparency from the board is concerning in itself. As of now, the updated policy has yet to be released.

According to the California School Board Association, the job of the school board is “to ensure that school districts are responsive to the values, beliefs and priorities of their communities.” However, by neglecting to release the changes before the final vote, the board broke its compact with the community. The board was unable to hear feedback from the community regarding the changes, and thus cannot possibly be representing its views.

Everett’s current opt-out policy could inhibit teachers from teaching essential learning material, and thus limits a student’s ability to process difficult subject matter. As students, we trust our teachers, who have an education in choosing meaningful curriculum, to choose what books we read in class. In contrast, Everett has never taught in a classroom setting; therefore, it is no surprise that the policy was met with heavy opposition from teachers. We respect a parent or student’s choice to opt-out of an assignment; however, burying materials and making them unteachable for the rest of the students is not an appropriate solution.

As students, we are the community members that this policy directly impacts. When we transition from children into adults, we should be able to comprehend difficult and uncomfortable literature. Because the district already allows concerned parents to opt their children out, the new policy, instead of encouraging positive parent involvement as intended, simply creates extra concern for both parents and students. Many busy parents will see the label of “mature content” and simply opt their children out of Core Literature without further research, unknowingly limiting the quality of their children’s education. If the school board had the students’ best interests in mind, it would not take away their role in deciding their own education.

The purpose of literature is to expose students to mature content that reflects reality.  Books are reflections of an author’s interpretation of real-life problems, and no one has the ability to opt-out of life.

Our classes teach us to be informed, critical thinkers. It is best if students learn about difficult topics in a classroom setting where they can have mature discussions and ask important questions rather than learning about them in an uncomfortable manner, such as on the internet or through first-person experience.The books that we read do not promote controversial acts, but rather teach us their repercussions. If we allow the school district to limit our in-classroom conversations, we limit our ability to respond to the uncomfortable situations we will inevitably face in the real world.

As students, it is our responsibility to voice our concerns in order to defend the quality of our education. Let’s look in the mirror and realize that life has mature content, and it doesn’t have a warning label with any opt-out option.

By Panther Prowler, The Arrow and The Lancer Staff

3 Comments

  1. Kim H.

    November 17, 2017 at 11:50 pm

    I’m so proud of the journalists from all three high school papers for this article. So well-written and comprehensive! The behavior of the majority on this school board is unacceptable. They don’t seem to care what their role is supposed to be, they just want to push through their agenda, which does not reflect the wants of the majority of CVUSD families. They seem to be solving a “problem” that our families did not ask them to address. For some reason, they have been allowed to bus in “concerned citizens” that live outside of our district, to take over the school board meetings and agenda as though they have any stake in our children’s education. I don’t think Mr. Dunn, Mrs. Everett, or Mr. Anderson realize that the reason so many of us chose to raise our children in this district is the stellar, competitive education that has been proven year after year in the Conejo Valley. Refusing to keep up that level of challenging students and trusting teachers will result in us losing more students to other districts, not less. You students, and your awesome teachers, are the only thing giving me hope for CVUSD’s future! And the elections next November. 😉

  2. Mark Storer

    November 18, 2017 at 5:10 am

    This is a thoughtful and serious piece to what is a remarkable decision by a school-board. As a high school English teacher and Journalism adviser, I am simultaneously appalled by the CVUSD’s decision–and heartened by this opinion piece taking to task what is obviously a very short-sighted and even ignorant decision on the part of people who really ought to know better. Thank you for your serious and focused journalism. You do you school–and your school newspaper–proud indeed.

  3. Nicole Malone

    November 18, 2017 at 7:27 am

    A very thoughtful piece. As an English teacher in a different school district, who also teaches mature content, I’ve had parents opt-out. It’s not a big deal & I respect those parents’ rights, but they have NO right to deny my other students the opportunity. This policy is a back door to banning literature – it cannot stand. As these students eloquently stated, literature teaches us about life – all parts of life. No piece of literature condones or promotes rape or incest. These students’ teachers should be proud to have such thoughtful & insightful students. These teachers been doing something right so far, I think we can trust them to continue to do so without the board or parents involvement in their literature choices.

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