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Lemont High School issues statement concerning "banned books" misconception

12/3/2016


Lemont High School District 210’s administration and Board of Education have received several messages concerning our English curriculum over the last few days, and there has been some discussion on social media as well. Unfortunately, some have read a recent article that was published by a local newspaper and concluded that the school is “banning books.”

This is not true.

We understand that this is a sensitive subject for many, whether they are current Lemont students, parents, alumni, educators, community members, and individuals across the country. We appreciate the opportunity to provide some perspective from the district’s point of view, as well as a timeline of events that have unfolded over the last two months.

The God of Small Things

Earlier this semester, students in our English II Academic classes read excerpts from The God of Small Things, a novel by author Arundhati Roy. This book contains subject matter in some sections that is not age-appropriate for the students who were reading the book; the questionable passages were not assigned for students to read.

Our process for review of curricular materials was not followed before this novel was assigned to our students. Board Policy 6:210 (Instructional Materials) requires that the Board of Education annually be provided a list of primary instructional materials that will be used in the upcoming year. The God of Small Things was not on that list of materials for the 2016-17 school year.

The book was introduced into our curriculum without the Board of Education’s knowledge, and upon learning this, Principal Eric Michaelsen proactively communicated on November 2 with all parents/guardians of students enrolled in the class to explain the situation and to apologize for the book having been utilized this semester.

To be clear, the concern about the content of some portions of the book did not originate from parents or community members. In fact, some of our English II Academic teachers first expressed concerns about the book to the administration. Only after the school transparently communicated with parents about the unauthorized use of this book did external concerns come forward.

Curricular activities related to The God of Small Things had concluded prior to the school’s communication with parents. This book was not “pulled” from the classroom during the instructional unit.

November 21 Board of Education Meeting

At District 210’s monthly Board of Education meeting on November 21, a small number of citizens addressed the Board of Education concerning the materials in our English curriculum. Additionally, against Board Policy, at least one of these individuals distributed literature to other attendees at the meeting intimating that Lemont High School included pornographic material in its English curriculum.

Three speakers addressed the Board of Education during its “Public Comment” section to express their concerns. These individuals not only addressed the use of The God of Small Things, but also were distressed by the inclusion of I Know Why the Caged Bird SIngs, the autobiography of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and author Maya Angelou.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has been part of Lemont High School’s curriculum for several years. There are brief sections of the book that include sexual content. Prior to students reading the book, our English Department notifies parents/guardians that the book will be used, explains that the book contains limited adult content, and gives them the opportunity to request an alternative reading assignment for their student. No parent took us up on the option for an alternative reading assignment this year.

As with The God of Small Things, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was not pulled from the classroom. Our curricular activities with this book already have been completed this year.

Curriculum Review

The circumstances around the use of The God of Small Things earlier this semester provided us a springboard to review all materials that are used in our English classes - regardless of how long they have been part of our curriculum - to ensure they are appropriate for our students.

However, it is important to note that there have been no materials eliminated from the curriculum that already were approved.

No school’s curriculum is stagnant; our faculty and administration constantly are reviewing and revising our curriculum based on the needs of our students, appropriate learning standards, and newly available educational resources. At any time, we may discontinue the use of some materials, include new materials, or bring back old materials that may not have been used in previous years.

November 29 Article in the Cook County Chronicle

Prior to Thanksgiving, school administrators were contacted by a reporter for the Cook County Chronicle, who was seeking to do a story about the concerns of the citizens who attended the November 21 Board of Education meeting. While school administrators did not seek out this story, we were happy to explain the rationale of how we addressed the use of The God of Small Things and answer any other questions that the reporter, Jean Lotus, had concerning our curriculum.

This story was published on the Cook County Chronicle’s Web site on November 29. Please click here to read that story.

We greatly appreciated the care that Ms. Lotus took to provide a balanced perspective on this sensitive subject. She of course included comments from the citizens who contacted her with their concerns. However, she also included information that we provided to her, and also sought opinions from experts in the field, including representatives of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Illinois Library Association.

Communications and Social Media Conversation
Unfortunately, the Cook County Chronicle article has led some to believe that our administration and Board of Education have banned books. We have received several messages from individuals who are concerned that we are sheltering students’ access to important literary works.

Again, to reiterate, Lemont High School has not banned any books.

Some of the messages that our administration and Board of Education have received have been extreme, comparing our actions to those of a Cold War-era Soviet Union or Nazi Germany.

Many of these messages include quotes from the Cook County Chronicle story, discussing suggested limitations on content on our curricular materials. These quotes are not from any school administrators or Board of Education members. Rather, the quotes are from the citizens from the November 21 Board of Education meeting who also were interviewed for the story.

Moving Forward

Lemont High School District 210’s faculty, staff, administration and Board of Education take very seriously the quality of education that is provided to our students. This level of care has made Lemont High School one of Chicagoland’s top high schools.

On Friday, December 2, Lemont High School evacuated the building and cut its school day short due to a bomb threat. There has been speculation on social media that the bomb threat may have been related to an incorrect assumption that Lemont High School is banning books.

At this time, local law enforcement agencies continue to investigate the origin of, and motive for, this threat. We are cooperating fully with this investigation.

If there is indeed a correlation, this is hard to fathom and completely out of bounds.

We hope that by providing this perspective to our parents, community members, and other concerned individuals who contacted us, we can return our focus to educating our students.

We are proud of Lemont High School. We are proud of our students, our teachers, and our community. We will continue to feature a dynamic, relevant curriculum that is effective in helping us achieve our mission, which is for all students to become life-long, independent learners and productive citizens in a rapidly changing world.

Individuals who have questions or concerns are encouraged to contact Principal Eric Michaelsen at emichaelsen@lhs210.net.
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