Appellants sought reversal of a decision by the local board to remove the book, The Misfits, from the approved curriculum for pupils in grades 6 and lower in the District. The book was used as a "read aloud" selection. It was read aloud during classroom time to provide a commonality for class discussions about bullying and harassment and to teach ready strategies. The parent of a child in this classroom requested that a particular part of the curriculum be reviewed. A committee reviewed the book and recommended that the book remain in the school library and continue as an option as a teacher read aloud. It was also recommended that any parent or student who had an objection be granted an alternative assignment.
A public meeting was held and public input was received, including a petition asking that the book be removed from the classroom discussion. All 7 board members spoke at the conclusion of the public comments for and against the removal of the book from the curriculum. The Board members determined that the age-appropriateness of the book was the major factor at the Board meeting. Appellants voiced during the hearing that the inclusion in The Misfits of a gay character clearly personally bothered two of the local board members.
A local board has the authority to make curricular decisions for each grade level in a district. Iowa Code section 279.8 and subsection 301.1(1). The students in all attendance centers of the District may voluntarily read the book by simply checking it out of the school library.
Of paramount concern to the State Board of Education is their desire that this decision not be viewed by either party as agreement with the decision reached by the local board to remove the book from the sixth grade curriculum. The State Board recognizes that permissible removal of a book from curricula is one step away from impermissible removal of a book from school libraries. The State Board is troubled by any local board action that gives the appearance of seeking to squelch such free exchange of ideas. The primary focus of The Misfits clearly was a positive, anti-bullying message.
The State Board wishes to remind school administrators and board members of their responsibility to send a clear message to all children that they shall be safe in their schools.
That the decision of the Board of Directors of the Pleasant Valley Community School District made on December 6, 2004, was affirmed.