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Article updated: 5/29/2013 11:51 AM

District 41 debates reinstating banned book, parent notification

By Christopher Placek

Whether a banned book will return to the classrooms of Hadley Junior High School in Glen Ellyn is unclear, while District 41 school board members argue over the contents of a parent notification letter about controversial classroom texts.

A district reconsideration committee has recommended "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" be reinstated as an independent reading option for eighth graders, at the same time district officials say additional "safeguards" would be implemented, such as sending parents a letter at the start of every school year asking them to be aware of their child's reading choices.

Parents could comment on the letter if there are texts they do not want their child reading, and it would have to be signed and returned to school before their child could check out books from the classroom library.

The book, written by Stephen Chbosky and published in 1999, is a coming-of-age tale about a 15-year-old high school freshman. Critics have argued the book isn't appropriate for young readers due to its sexually explicit content and language.

The school board voted 4-2 on April 29 to remove "Wallflower" from Hadley eighth grade classrooms after parents of a student filed a formal request to do so.

On Tuesday, the board -- now with three new members who have been seated following April's election -- weighed in on the controversy.

One of the new board members, Patrick Escalante, said the parental notification letter as written needs to have stronger language letting parents know that their children may be getting access to sometimes mature content in classroom libraries.

"The letter is surrounded by pretty library language," Escalante said. "If we're gonna face this, let's face this head on -- these books may be inappropriate for eighth grade readers."

Board Vice President John Kenwood wanted the letter to include the fact that some books may have sexual content, since that specifically has been a concern of parents who've objected to "Wallflower" at board meetings.

Board President Sam Black said teachers should catalog the materials in their classrooms and place the list on the district website for parents to see.

"We can't be the police, but we have to start some sort of base line where parents can get involved if they want to, and if they do, they can have some say about what their child reads in these classrooms," Black said.

New board member Dean Elger said board members shouldn't put themselves in a position where they become arbiters in classroom book selections.

"If we start deciding what has sexual content or drug references, we would be splitting an awful lot of hairs," Elger said. "I don't think we should be the book police. I think the parents should be the book police."

New board member Joe Bochenski said the board could be creating a "slippery slope" if it made determinations about what is objectionable, since that opinion could differ from person to person.

Superintendent Ann Riebock indicated the board could vote on two separate motions at its next meeting June 10 -- one on whether "Wallflower" should be reinstated, and the other about parent notification letters.

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