At its June meeting, Council Rock School Board approved inclusion of two novels in next year’s district curriculum – despite opposition from several board members.
The two novels in question were “The Giver,” a young adult dystopian novel written by Lois Lowry, and “In the Time of the Butterflies,” a historical fiction novel by Julia Alvarez.
Members of the public who voiced support for the books included Washington Crossing resident Priscilla Linden.
“I am alarmed that two books already recommended last month at the Education Committee meeting are to be singled out for possible removal from the approved curriculum tonight,” she said. “The professional judgment of our teachers and the positive responses of our students should not be censored by a small, politically motivated group of adults.”
Board members Bob Hickey, Michael Roosevelt and Kristin Marcell expressed concerns over the age-appropriateness of the books.
Hickey said, “If this (‘The Giver’) was a high school book, I would be a yes. But for an incoming seventh-grader, in light of all that they’ve been through in the last two years, at this point in time I feel it is an age-inappropriate book.”
Fellow board member Kristin Marcell added, “I have a daughter who is that age, and I think about the past two years in terms of what she’s been through...Some of the themes in the book also just concern me in terms of some of the more tragic events that have occurred in Council Rock recently.”
Board member Marianne McKee, who was supportive of separate motions to approve both books, sought to clarify why the board should approve them.
“I would like to remind us that we are here to support education which means supporting educators. They are our professionals, they are the ones in the classrooms who are recommending materials to us, who have taught books or have seen children’s enjoyment of books of rich literature that should be available to our students.”
Board member Edward Tate agreed. “I think a book that has stood the test of time that our teachers recommend and that is loved by our students deserves approval by the board.”
Board President Edward Salamon acknowledged the angst some parents may feel, but ultimately said he trusts the administration of new Superintendent Dr. Andrew Sanko to remedy any books flagged in the future. As such, the board voted 5-3 (absent one member) to approve both texts.
Another topic garnering plenty of discussion from the board was the approval of the textbook resource Membean, an elementary vocabulary assessment the district currently employs.
Board member Michael Thorwart had especially strong feelings about the program after his child had a negative experience with it.
“The better you were, the harder it became to get the grades you wanted because it punishes people who excel,” he said.
Salamon asked Administrator on Special Assignment Hannah Pressman to clarify the program and to address some of Thorwart’s concerns.
Pressman said, “If you are increasingly doing well in the program, you may get harder words or more words than other students...The emphasis is not placed on the grade, it’s more so placed on the words.”
Other members also expressed concerns with the program’s grading system but stated that those concerns could be addressed by the new administration. The final vote was 7-1, with Thorwart being the lone “no.”
The meeting concluded with two more individuals (Brittany Kosin of Jamison and Gregory Beatty of Holland) making public comments regarding the need for civics to be taught in schools and updating district mental health programs, respectively.