Reconsideration committee, school board vote to keep controversial book in curriculum | Local News

OTTUMWA – The Ottumwa School District will not remove a book containing controversial content from its curriculum at Evans Middle School.

The book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” was first brought to the district’s attention in late April of this year from a Facebook post that has since been deleted. The book is being taught in a seventh-grade English Language Arts class at the school and was temporarily suspended for the district’s review.

A school board-approved reconsideration committee consisting of parents, community representatives, teachers, students, librarians and administrators announced the committee voted unanimously to not remove the book from class curriculum at Monday night’s school board meeting.

According to Mike Stiemsma, a reconsideration committee member and special education, ELL and nursing district coordinator, the committee met twice to review the book. Each committee member read the book and looked at professional reviews and commentary, then used the formal objection and specific citations to guide their conversations regarding the book.

The committee requested and received additional information from the seventh-grade English Language Arts team about why the book was chosen to be used in the class curriculum, along with its educational purpose. The committee discussed how other districts in the state and the country are currently using the book as well.

“The committee discussed in depth the appropriateness of the book for middle school students and its literary merit for teachers to use to meet grade level standards,” Stiemsma said.

A press release published by the district in late April also stated the book was recommended and selected as part of the seventh-grade curriculum, addressing “skills of characterization, author’s point of view, and tone.”

Stiemsma stated the English departments at Evans and Ottumwa High School will now publish units of study and resources, including texts, prior to each quarter during the academic year. Parents will be notified of the materials and given the option to request alternate readings without consequence.

“Because of that, the committee felt a lot more comfortable moving forward,” he said.

Stiemsma also shared comments made by committee members, who stated students on the committee found the book “interesting and engaging.”

“They felt the page that drew attention was both relevant to the entire narrative, and also a very small part of the broader impact the author brought to the story.”

He also shared direct statements from student members of the committee.

“We made a clear and concise decision that was justified. The book is a helpful tool for kids to be engaged and learn important lessons about life, and the depiction of social differences in the book mirrors our own community. ”

School board member Christina Schark said she supports the committee’s decision not to remove the book from the curriculum.

“I thought it was a very good read. I thought it was a good story, ”she said. “I would feel a little bit more comfortable with it if it wasn’t used at the seventh-grade level, but I have no issue with the decision not to remove it at all. I’d like to see it used at some place in our curriculum. I think maybe eighth, ninth would make a little bit more sense, but thank you for everybody’s time and going through the process. ”

School board president Morgan Brown added he supports the committee’s decision and appreciates the option for parents to see what their children are reading at school in advance.

“In general, I don’t like censorship or removing books, banning things, that kind of a thing,” he said. “Having that stuff in place makes that more realistic. Parents know what’s coming. If they have an objection, then they’re able to object. I love that we have it both ways. We’re not censoring stuff, but we’re also giving parents a chance to make a decision about what their children are seeing. ”


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