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Wednesday, November 23, 2022
School Board Member Speaks Up About Inappropriate Books in SDPC
Amy Williams, School Board SDPC District 7
Under Title 59 of the code of laws of South Carolina, the school board is given executive, legislative and judicial authority over the school district. The School Board Trustees will once again vote on a challenged book, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, during our next board meeting 28 November. A parent challenged this book when it was assigned to a then 14-year-old student in 9th grade English at Daniel High School based on objectionable content and profane language.
When asked to vote on a book or resource as a school board trustee, I support selecting the highest value educational materials that are age appropriate. Materials need to support the student in being successful raising their own families, preparing them for community life and finding gainful employment whether heading directly to the workforce or pursuing trade or college education after high school.
The book Dear Martin is not without its merits as a young adult novel chronicling the main character, Justyce, an African American student in an exclusive prep high school coming of age in a difficult world.
A negative in this book can be found in the author’s gratuitous use of four-letter words from start to finish. There are 142 curse words contained in this short novel as follows: A--:(26x); A--hole:(14x); B-tch:(4x); BullSh-t:(4x); D-mn: (23x); Eff-ng: 149(1x); F-ck:(8x); G-dD-mn: (3x); H-ll: (16x); Jack-ss: (2x); MotherF---er: (3x); N-g-r: (9x); Punk-ss:(4x); Sh-t:(25x). A person could not remain employed in any job nor be a member in good standing in any community using this language, and this is not the example we want to set in schools for students.
Additionally, adult sexual content including objectification of women as follows also detracts from the value of the book:
From Pg 31:
Jared: If you ask me, she wants Justyce to pop her little cherry.
Kyle: Well, seeing as you never did it...
Jared: Shut up. We were in eighth grade.
Blake: You still totally wanna tap that, bro.
From Pg 90:
“There’s this fine-a-- Black girl here from Decatur Prep, and I was thinking you guys could wingman
it up for me and sh-t. Homegirl’s got the fattest a-- I’ve ever seen, and I think if she meets my nig--s,
I’ll have a good chance of getting her upstairs. You feel me dogs?”
In light the Harvey Weinsteins, the Jeffrey Epsteins and the “Me too” movement in today’s world heightening awareness of sexual assault today, I find these passages very objectionable to a wide audience.
The District Level Committee has ruled as follows: “This novel should not be used as assigned reading, whether whole class or in book clubs/literature circles. This novel may be included in the teacher's classroom library as a student's choice for independent, non-instructional reading.” Thus, the decision to uphold this recommendation or remove the book from the classroom libraries or media centers now falls to a School Board vote.
If the School Board choses to remove this book from the media center, classroom and/or supplemental educational materials, this is not a “book ban” according to Eugene Volokh, an instructor at the UCLA School of Law. Mr. Volokh is also the author of the textbook The First Amendment and Related Statutes (5th ed. 2013). Mr. Volokh recently wrote an article posted 09 August 2022 for Reason titled, Removal of Books With “Lascivious Content” from School Libraries Likely Constitutionally Permissible, in which he cites the recent landmark court case C.K.-W. v. Wentzville R-IV School Dist., (2022) saying,
“The District's policy does not ban the District's students from reading the books at issue here. Nor does it ban students from acquiring the books or lending the books to others. Students may borrow the books from the public library or from a friend or neighbor. They likewise are free to purchase the books. The policy does not even ban students from bringing the books at issue to the District's schools. Nor does it ban students from discussing the books at school during their free time or encouraging others to read them…. [T]he "overwrought rhetoric about book banning has no place" in this case. Cf. Bd. of Educ. v. Pico (1982) (principal case on which Plaintiffs rely that, despite similar facts, does not use the word ban or any similar language to describe the board's actions). A school district does not "ban" a book when, "through its authorized school board," it "decides not to continue possessing [a] book on its own library shelves."
SDPC Policies such as: ACD- Tobacco free school District; JICH- Drug and Alcohol Use by Students; IHAM – Health Education; IJNDB- Use of Technology in Instruction; GBEE- Internet and Electronic Communication; JICDA-R- Student Code of Conduct and GBEB- Staff Conduct all work in concert to demonstrate the SDPC District’s commitment to the goal of “exhibiting healthy behavior for all students, staff, contract or other workers, visitors, and the entire community.” These policies address expectations for student and staff interactions and behaviors. This book appears to give students mixed messages that are in conflict with its own policies and standards regarding everything from substance abuse to profanity to sexually explicit or derogatory language.
For all of these reasons I ask myself, does this book belong in one of the best school districts in South Carolina? I do not believe it does.
All school board trustees need to know the law, read the books they are approving and not be afraid to vote to uphold the educational standard of Pickens County Schools. Written by Amy Williams, SDPC, School Board Member District 7