Wisconsin School Board Withholds Result of Secret Vote on Part-Time Indian

absolutelytrueThe school board in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin has taken a secret vote on whether to remove Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian from the curriculum, but refuses to announce the result until its next public meeting on July 24. There is no clear justification for the vote happening in closed session, which normally can only be called in matters related to a “trial or hearing” of an individual.

The use of Part-Time Indian was first questioned during an April 24 school board meeting for what one parent called “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. Thompson told the Sauk Prairie Eagle newspaper this week that he “was not comfortable commenting on the reasons for the closed session,” nor was he present at the meeting.

By all appearances, the closed-session vote on a book was in violation of Wisconsin’s open meetings law–a fact just confirmed by the state Supreme Court in a case concerning the Appleton School Board, which also met in closed session to review curriculum. The Prairie du Sac board is apparently claiming that the book itself was actually “on trial,” as the meeting agenda cited “quasi-judicial deliberations on the appeal from the book complaint decision” as the justification for closed session. In light of the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision against Appleton’s similar action, that excuse likely would not fly in court.

CBLDF has joined several defenses of Sherman 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.

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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.