After a two-month delay, the Conejo Valley School Board in Thousand Oaks, California finally voted 4-1 last night to approve Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian as part of the 9th grade curriculum. The holdup was due to stalling from board president Mike Dunn, who previously expressed concerns about profanity in the book and ultimately cast the single vote against it.
With school starting next Wednesday, it is likely now too late for teachers to incorporate Part-Time Indian into their classes for the Fall semester. In past years, the school board has made decisions on all books that teachers indicated they’d like to use in the following school year prior to the final board meeting of the previous year.
After Dunn unexpectedly failed to include the approval on the agenda for one meeting in early June, CBLDF and other members of NCAC’s Kids’ Right to Read Project sent a letter urging him to allow a vote at the last-chance meeting on June 27. He did not, but opposition continued to build throughout the summer in the Ventura County Star and from members of a local Indivisible chapter.
Before the board finally got the chance to vote last night, they received another letter from the California Library Association, the National Council of Teachers of English, and ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom urging them to support the book and “send a powerful message to students that, in this country, they have the responsibility and the right to think critically about what they read, rather than allowing others to think for them.”
Dunn had previously claimed that his main concern was that students should not be forced to read the book if they don’t want to. Luckily, district policy already gives parents the right to opt their children out of any assigned reading; nevertheless, Dunn’s only comment after the book’s approval last night was that “our children will be hurt by this decision.”
Thanks to the majority of the Conejo Valley board for considering the pedagogical value of Part-Time Indian, the First Amendment rights of students, and the options already in place for parents who prefer an alternative reading assignment! Despite the final victory, however, it’s still unfortunate that the teachers who specifically requested approval to use this book in the classroom were unable to do so for the upcoming semester.
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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.