After a rather eventful challenge process that included a secret vote, Wisconsin’s Sauk Prairie School Board announced on Friday that members unanimously chose to retainThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie in the 9th grade curriculum. A local newspaper, the Sauk Prairie Eagle, has filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking details on the closed-session deliberations.
The school board’s decision is the end of the road for this challenge, which began during an April 24 school board meeting where one parent said the book included “shocking words of profanity, sexual innuendo and violence.” Another parent quoted out-of-context passages during the meeting as evidence of the novel’s unsuitability for classrooms. A third parent argued that she’s not an advocate of banning books, “but I cannot believe in the history of the written word that there is not a more appropriate, more suitable, more acceptable book than this one.”
In May, a Sauk Prairie High School review committee voted 8-5 to recommend retaining the book in the 9th grade curriculum, given that parents are able to opt their own children out of any reading assignment. Superintendent Cliff Thompson accepted that recommendation shortly thereafter, but the decision was subsequently appealed to the school board which deliberated and voted on the book in closed session, an apparent violation of Wisconsin’s open meetings law. Since closed sessions are only allowed for matters related to a “trial or hearing,” the board had cited “quasi-judicial deliberations on the appeal from the book complaint decision” on its agenda for the July 10 meeting.
Although this case has a positive outcome for defenders of the freedom to read, the board’s secretive dealings are nevertheless puzzling and concerning. It appears that board members may not have wanted the public to know how they each voted–a goal that is now moot since it turns out they unanimously supported the book. In the interest of transparency and due process, the board should release the documents requested by the Sauk Prairie Eagle.
All board members did read Part-Time Indian in its entirety before taking the vote, and Board President Ryan Jesberger described it to the Eagle as “a good educational resource and a book that teaches some great lessons.” CBLDF has joined several defenses of Alexie’s award-winning novel over the years. It has appeared on ALA’s annual list of the most challenged books on several occasions since its 2007 publication despite accolades from The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, and more. It won the 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and several other awards. It has been included in school curricula around the country since publication.
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.