BoE votes to keep controversial book
A book that a group of concerned parents wanted removed from use in the MHS English program as well as the school library will remain following a vote by the Merrill Area Public Schools Board of Education in a special meeting last Thursday at the MHS auditorium.
Only about 50 people were in attendance at the meeting, with the opinions fairly evenly split on both sides of the issue of what to do with the book Montana 1948. Those who want the book removed say the mature themes of rape, sex, pedophilia and obscene language make the book inappropriate for high school students.
According to Interim Superintendent Bruce Anderson, a total of 40 people have signed forms formally asking the district to remove the book from use in English classes and/or have it removed from the shelves of the high school library since the board voted in May to not do either. The formal procedure started with a meeting with MHS Principal Shannon Murray through meetings with then superintendent Dr. Lisa Snyder and a hearing before the Curriculum Review Committee. Thursday’s hearing was the last step in the process under MAPS policy.
Anderson said the book has been in use for 12 years and it gained approval from the school board at that time as part of changes to the English curriculum. He added that of the 120 students currently taking the course, none have opted to read an alternative title at their parents’ request.
Those who filed formal challenges to the book were allowed six minutes each to speak to the board and several chose to do so. While the rules of the hearing precluded them from reading from the “objectionable parts” of the book, they still found plenty of ways to make their case.
One argued that the book is kept in the adult section at the T.B. Scott Library and those under 18 who wished to check it out had to have permission from a parent to do so.
Another challenger said that the book contains pornography and that by continuing to use it in class meant the school board condoned giving pornography to children.
Many of the critics of the book said there are much better books available that could be used to teach English.
Many of the people who signed up to speak at the meeting, and were given three minutes each under the rules, spoke in favor of keeping the book.
One supporter said that she had read The Scarlet Letter while in MHS and she didn’t grow up to be a pedophile or worse.
Another supporter asked how a teacher can discuss ethics without being able to discuss the evil as well as the good in the world, as shown in the book.
Another found it ironic that the hearing is being held during Banned Book Week, when works of literature that have been banned are celebrated.
Responding to a question from a board member, Central Office Administrator, Curriculum Dave Brandvold said that in time the curriculum review process would eventually replace the book with another topic.
“I think that curriculum is fluid and changes over time,” Brandvold said.
While many of the board members supported the use of the book, Loretta Baughan asked if a policeman or the district attorney will be in the classroom when the more controversial sections are covered.
“Where do we draw the line between what is and isn’t acceptable?” Baughan asked.
Baughan and Brad Geiss cast the two nay votes on the separate votes to remove the book from class and the library. They sided with the other six members on keeping it in the library.
The opponents can still take the matter to court to try to get the book removed. A couple of those who filed challenges hinted at such during their comments.