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Book challenge policy gets Pasco County School Board talking

Recently adopted new law that gives parents and other residents more opportunities to review and challenge school instructional materials has sparked the Pasco County School Board to take a closer look at how it deals with such situations.

The board this week reviewed proposed new policy based on the law, and quickly turned its attention to how it might prevent disputes from getting out of control.

Board chairman Cynthia Armstrong initiated the conversation by asking staff to clarify the rule, so people understand there is a set schedule for examining and opposing textbooks.

"The time to challenge the textbook is prescribed in statutes," she explained. "They need to be aware of the adoption schedule … so we aren't redoing something a second time."

The issue of supplemental materials assigned by individual teachers raised a different concern. Board members said that while they adopt the policy that allows for review, school leaders must handle the situations that arise, and know they have the authority to do so.

"The principals are on the line first," said board member Steve Luikart, a retired school administrator.

To help themselves, board member Allen Altman suggested, teachers should let families know as soon as possible if they think there's anything in the materials that could be considered offensive.

That's a potentially tall order, noted board member Colleen Beaudoin, a veteran math teacher.

"You can't anticipate what someone is going to find offensive," Beaudoin noted.

Superintendent Kurt Browning agreed, offering as an example an art class that includes paintings or sculptures of nudes you would see in a museum. Some parents might really object, he said, while others might think nothing of it.

He proposed that, at the very least, principals remind teachers to read all the materials they plan to assign and, if possible, distribute lists in advance for parents to see. That way, anyone with concerns can raise them before their children come home and start asking awkward questions about things they are reading.

That has happened a few times in the past few years in Pasco schools, most recently in 2016 when a substitute teacher assigned the novel "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" to students without first reading the book. Parents complained about the sexual content, and the school later removed the title from its shelves.

Browning said at the time he wanted schools to post reading lists, but that has yet to become a district requirement.

If a parent does not like a selection, Armstrong added, the teacher should have alternatives available that meet the desired lessons and standards but are more acceptable to the parents.

They also must remember that although some literature might be controversial, "there is a reason why it is being read," said assistant superintendent Monica Ilse.

The board is scheduled to consider adopting the policy at a future meeting.

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Book challenge policy gets Pasco County School Board talking