Teachers meet with school board to discuss opt-out practices

At the school meeting on Aug. 15, John Andersen, board member, proposed the discussion of an opt-out policy for core literature that would give students the ability to read alternate texts if they have personal objections to literature being taught in English classes. Discussion of the approval of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie for ninth grade English classes prompted the proposal.

The board convened in an informal “study session” on Sept. 25 where community members spoke to the issue of an opt-out policy. English teachers from across the district were called to discuss the effects such a policy would have on the classroom.

“They want to examine … the process by which books are approved, and also the process by which parents are notified of content in literature that might be cause for an exception or an objection on their part,” Christy Hodson, English teacher and department chair, said. Hodson explained that English teachers currently alert families about literature selections in the course syllabus at the beginning of the year.

Department chairs were able to invite another teacher to participate in the discussion, Hodson’s choice being Jill Magnante, English teacher. “(Our) purpose was to be the voice for the teachers of these high schools’ English department,” Hodson said.

Alana Bond and Robin Lilly, English teachers, also attended the meeting as community members to understand the different perspectives on the issue.

“I think for some teachers, (an opt-out policy) would cause a big disruption because in our planning (we) tend to teach a whole class a procedure,” Lilly said. “It would take a real paradigm shift in the way people do things in order to accommodate (an opt-out policy) in a meaningful way.”

Bond, who oversees the Writing Center, encouraged student tutors to attend the meeting. “I think in general students should just get more involved in what’s going on in the community and going to school board meetings is a good way to do that,” Bond said. “And since this has to do with curriculum, and what they’re being taught and what they’re reading, it does directly affect them so they should be aware of what’s going on and feel free to speak out on what they believe about it.”

After attending the Aug. 15 meeting, Dayna Archer, senior, became interested in the actions of the school board and attended the study session to learn more about the decision-making process for establishing English curriculum. “What goes on in these board meetings is related to us because we’re the students,” Archer said. “I think it’s important to know what’s going on in our school district.”

On Oct. 3, the board convened for their regular session. On the agenda was action item 11A regarding the core literature policy.

Community member Maureen Mayer expressed her concern with requiring that students read the current core literature selections. “I think that students should be challenged. But salacious and pornographic work I do not think rises to the level of bold or challenging,” Mayer said.

George Miller, community member, agreed, stating that parents are the customers of the schools. “I know (it is) debatable what moral is,” Miller said. “But we have to try to come to some kind of accommodation for the parents, staff, and people with different opinions.”

Mary Anne Van Zuyle, community member, presented an alternate view, arguing that the discussion of controversial topics in English classes is beneficial. “My children are not protected by keeping them ignorant.” Zuyle said. “It is important for my children to hear and learn to evaluate different viewpoints.”

A common concern amongst community members was that parents who are unhappy with the literature being taught will leave the district. One community member, Amy Chen, proposed creating an opt-in policy rather than an opt-out so that parents must knowingly approve of the content their child is reading.

When the action item was opened up for board discussion, Betsy Connolly, board member, suggested that creating a board policy would help solidify the opt-out practice that teachers have already been following. After, Mark McLaughlin, Interim Superintendent, proposed forming a Superintendent’s committee to create an opt-out policy to be voted on. The board approved the formation of this committee. The committee will include Bob Iezza, Deputy Superintendent of Instruction, and Jennifer Boone, Director of Curriculum, and will hear from parents specifically about the opt-out policy.

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