The Lampeter-Strasburg, Pennsylvania, school board made the right decision this past Tuesday when they formally announced that they would not adopt a parental notification/approval policy regarding the inclusion of certain, potentially “controversial,” books in their classrooms. Instead, if needed, teachers could notify parents after the presentation of the materials to keep them abreast of their child’s education.
This news did not go over very well with some in the Lampeter-Strasburg community. The policy change discussion was initiated after the children’s picture book Jacob’s New Dress was read to a kindergarten classroom on December 22. Some parents wanted to know why a book featuring a boy wearing a dress was read to children without parents being alerted in advance. Parents received notice from the classroom teacher after the book was read to students.
Some parents feel that there was a breach of trust between the school district and themselves. As Pastor Jamie Mitchell of Harvest Bible Chapel said after he learned about the books inclusion in the classroom, “they had considered contacting parents but knew that many would remove their kids… Therefore, they believed they knew better what these children needed.”
The determination of “what these children need” is just as subjective as determining whether a particular book is “controversial,” and ultimately a school’s ability to teach shouldn’t be held up in order to have consent forms collected and papers filed. As Superintendent Kevin Peart commented, “It’s impossible to define legally and practically what is and isn’t controversial.” To draft a preemptive letter to parents would essentially defeat the purpose of the lesson teachers were trying to teach within the classroom with the book and what was conveyed in the letter to parents after the book was read — to be kind and accepting of all people regardless of their personal appearance and decisions.
To this point, Superintendent of Eastern Lancaster County School District Robert Hollister noted:
[Controversy occurs when] the rights of an individual crash into (or overlap) the rights of another individual. But that constant tension exists as a product of society, especially our great melting pot, which I wouldn’t trade for anything.
The Lampeter-Strasburg Editorial Board for Lancaster Online elaborates on the alarming frequency with which schools are forced to adjust curricula and remove books from shelves.
We tend to second-guess teachers, because we’ve all been to school, but teachers are professionals who have been taught how to deliver lessons in age-appropriate ways. The great majority of them are careful and sensitive to the communities in which they teach, and are trying, as Hempfield Superintendent Brenda Becker says, “to do the right things for the right reasons.”
It is important that parents be aware and proactive in their own child’s education, but those things should never come at the expense of the educations of all children. The Lampeter-Strasburh School Board stood by this idea in declining to adopt a prohibitive policy.
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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!