In a 3-2 vote, the school board for the New London-Spicer school district has affirmed an administrator’s defense of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
The book is part of the 8th grade curriculum in the district and students were offered an alternative assignment if their parents objected to the book. Nevertheless, it was challenged by two parents who said it contained “gratuitous and unnecessary” profanity and references to sexual acts.
CBLDF joined the National Coalition Against Censorship on a letter to New London-Spicer Middle School principal Trish Perry urging her to consider the value of the book as a whole, and the negative precedent that would be set by allowing a few parents to dictate curricular selections for all students. Perry in turn thanked NCAC for the letter and said she will recommend that Absolutely True Diary be retained because she “[values] the work that is in the book.”
Absolutely True Diary has had a bit of a rough 2017 in classrooms. This challenge to Alexie’s novel is not to be confused with the one in neighboring Wisconsin, where the superintendent of the Sauk Prairie School District is also recommended that it remain in the curriculum.
The complainants were unsatisfied with Perry’s recommendation, escalating their challenge to the school board. According to reporting in the West Central Tribune, board members debated delaying the vote, but ultimately determined that doing so wouldn’t render new responses to inform their decision. Board member Lucinda Dahlberg registered concerns that the language and scenarios in the book “goes against the district’s own handbook for student behavior,” while another board member, Cherrish Holland, pointed out the slippery slope of censorship, countering that other books in the curriculum address similar territory, so “I get concerned about where we stop then.”
The teacher who used Absolutely True Diary in the curriculum has since resigned for unrelated reasons. However, the incoming replacement has expressed an interest in using the book as well. The administration did recommend that “teachers that use the book must send a notification and schedule a meeting with parents prior to reading the book in class,” and while the policy raises some concerns over singling out a book for extra scrutiny, the school board’s decision to keep the book in classrooms is ultimately a victory for the freedom to read.
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