Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Tuesday

December 4, 2012

Assigned reading draws complaint

Couple wants book banned for all but high school seniors

TRAVERSE CITY — It never dawned on Heather Campbell that she'd one day work to get a book banned from a school's curriculum.

But Campbell found herself in just that position after she read Jeannette Walls' memoir "The Glass Castle," a book assigned to her freshman daughter over the summer as part of the 9th grade honors English course at Traverse City West Senior High School.

Campbell and her husband Jeff recently complained about "The Glass Castle" to school officials, and the Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education is set to weigh in on the matter on Dec. 10.

"I never thought I would be somewhere where I would have to say — it's almost like a book-burning — 'please take this off the reading list,'" said Campbell, of Traverse City. "I just think we need to use some common sense when it comes to our kids."

The memoir recounts the author's experience growing up in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father and a mother who suffered from mental illness. It includes explicit language and references to child molestation, adolescent sexual exploits and violence.

On Nov. 20, the school board's Curriculum Committee upheld a recommendation to remove the book from student study programs. That recommendation originated with a separate committee that was formed to address the Campbells' complaint, a step required by district policy.

The committee was composed of Jayne Mohr, TCAPS assistant superintendent; Stephanie Long, an assistant principal at West; Genevieve Minor, West's media specialist; teachers Maya Kassab and Sherry Stoltz; and parents Billie Jo Clark and Jennifer Bonifacio.

The Campbells asked the committee to ban the book from 9th, 10th and 11th grade curriculums.

"We believe there is no purpose reasonable to warrant exposing young students to this resource," the Campbells' written complaint states.

Mohr said the district assigned "The Glass Castle," as summer reading because "the Teacher Steering Committee felt it would be of high interest to students," she said.

Clark read the book before it was assigned to students and said it offers more than just an engaging story.

"It's a book about overcoming the most incredible obstacles in your life," Clark said. "It is a book about forgiveness. I think the book had a lot of great, resonating things."

Clark plans to have her freshman son, who is transferring into the honors English course, read the book.

She acknowledged that not all 9th graders may be ready for the book, but decided her son is mature enough for the material. She also said other parents typically don't have that option when a book is assigned as mandatory summer reading.

Heather Campbell agreed. She likely would not have taken issue with "The Glass Castle," if the district offered an alternative summer reading choice.

Mohr said instructors cannot teach to multiple summer reading assignments once students return to class in the fall.

Mohr's committee in October decided to recommend the book's removal from the freshman curriculum, according to a memo she wrote to TCAPS Superintendent Steve Cousins.

The Campbells don't think the recommendation to remove the book from 9th grade reading lists went far enough. Jeff Campbell called it a "minimalist action," in an email to Mohr.

He reasserted his desire to the see the book banned from grades 9 through 11 in a different email to Cousins.

Cousins replied in an email the district could not remove the book from the 10th and 11th grade reading lists because it was not on those lists to begin with.

"(Board Curriculum Committee members) have not recommended "The Glass Castle" for later on in high school," Cousins wrote. "I don't anticipate that they will."

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