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Park City Board of Education postpones book ban policy decision… again

Parents Bari Nan Cohen Rothchild and Miriam Eatchel speak out with concerns about the book ban policy.

The Park City Board of Education postponed adopting a proposed book ban policy Friday as the school district’s attorney evaluates its constitutionality.

Park City Board of Education members and district administration met in a special session Friday morning to consider adopting policy 9051, which would allow parents to remove books deemed sensitive from public school curriculums. Passing a sensitive materials policy is required by every school district in the state under the directive of HB 374, passed by the state legislature in May.

The school board wanted a further discussion on the policy's constitutionality and its impact on first amendment rights.

Parent Bari Nan Rothchild said 9051 is a redundant policy because parents already have mechanisms to challenge the books teachers select for instruction.

"And they're pretty robust," Cohen Rothchild said. "So, I am completely confused why anybody thinks we need more than that. We all get disclosures, for instance, from teachers in the upper grades with a list of reading material that they're going to be covering. And you always have the option as a parent to ask for a different source text to teach the material."

Rothschild said the teachers are highly qualified to determine the best materials to teach children of various ages. The school district has a novels adoption committee which includes parents, educators, and administrators.

Parent Miriam Eatchel said the books she may find offensive can still be excellent teaching tools because they give her a chance to discuss real-life issues with her children.

"My kids and one of Bari Nan's kids were in the class where two eighth graders died from drugs, and so to say that we don't want our kids to read material that's sensitive, they're living it," Eatchel said.

Rothchild believes children must have access to ideas and literature different from their own experiences.

The Sherman Alexie book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, has been banned or restricted in some school districts across the county. It's a book for ninth graders that deals with alcohol, bullying, sexual references, racial slurs, and profanity.

"Those are things that are happening around our ninth graders every day, every hour of every day," Cohen Rothchild said. "It's stuff that happens in our school district all the time. And I think having literature that helps our kids explore how those things are harmful, how those things can be managed, how people who are different from them should be included and learn from."

The Park City school board will consider the sensitive materials policy 9051 at a later meeting. Park City School District Spokesperson for Media Relations Heidi Matthews said the board would seek an extension of the state-imposed October 1 deadline if it needs more time to evaluate the wording of the new rules.

Matthews said a guideline explains how a school district can define pornography. She said there are three prongs, taken as a whole, that must be in place to designate a book as pornographic.

“That taken as a whole, the work does not lead to prurient interest,” Matthews said. “So, you know, it's not designed to be erotic. Secondly, that it does not violate the standards of the average community, what an adult would see as age-appropriate, and then thirdly, that it doesn't have any serious value.”

Matthews said the ‘serious value’ guideline would include scientific, political, social, or historic contributions to a student’s learning.

KPCW reporter Carolyn Murray covers Summit and Wasatch County School Districts. She also reports on wildlife and environmental stories, along with breaking news. Carolyn has been in town since the mid ‘80s and raised two daughters in Park City.