Naperville 203 board candidates agree age-appropriateness key to curriculum decisions

The five school board candidates running for three open seats in Naperville Unit District 203 agree that age-appropriateness is the key to making difficult curriculum decisions.

Two incumbents, Kristine Gericke and Joe Kozminski, are vying to keep their seats in the election against newcomers Ron Amato, Melissa Kelley Black and Gilbert Wagner.

In recent months, Gericke, Kozminski and the other members of the District 203 school board have dealt with curriculum issues that stirred up members of the community. The board approved administration recommendations to eliminate Latin and add a classroom requirement for students participating in music programs.

The banning of books and other materials in schools, meanwhile, has become a controversial topic nationwide. It crept into local politics earlier this month when an election mailer endorsed certain candidates to help prevent the spread of book banning.

Amato, who wasn't endorsed in the mailer, spoke against the mailer at a recent Naperville City Council meeting and said he does not believe in banning books. He and the other candidates agreed that student grade levels are a major consideration in deciding on appropriate classroom and library materials.

"I don't see any problems with our district and the curriculum that's being utilized," Amato said. "That's not why I'm running for school board. I don't believe in banning books or that sort of thing. I will say I think board members need to be able to listen to parents' concerns."

The incumbents, Kozminski and Gericke, said it's important to expose students to a wide variety of materials.

"School is the place where kids can be challenged and see different points of view," Kozminski said. "They need to be able to process complex issues at an age-appropriate level. Having those resources available is important."

Gericke agreed, noting the importance of schools in developing students into critical thinkers.

"Information and education has to be well-rounded," she said. "I don't believe in leaving things out or cherry-picking certain topics. It makes you a better global citizen if you have a very well-rounded education."

Kelley Black said it's not realistic to believe banning materials will prevent tech-savvy children from accessing controversial topics. She said exposure to information is useful for students in developing logical opinions and engaging in respectful discourse.

"Restricting information and banning books is not wise, and I think it's foolish to think we can restrict that information," she said. "Our children are bombarded with information. That makes it all the more important that our school district focuses on how you manage information."

Wagner said parental involvement is essential. Communication between parents and the school board is necessary, he said, when controversial issues arise.

"Any restriction on parents being involved in their child's education is wrong," Wagner said. "If they're not happy, they should be able to speak their mind, and then we should talk about it and figure out what's important and what's appropriate."

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