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Public input included tears, anger, and logic during Park City school board meeting

Parents packed into the board of education meeting to listen and give input as the board members voted on controversial sensitive materials policy changes.
Parents packed into the Park City board of education meeting to listen and give input as board members voted on a sensitive materials policy changes.

After the Utah legislature passed HB 374 last spring, school districts across the state were ordered to update policies dealing with sensitive books in Utah public school classrooms. After many months of evaluation and two public input sessions, the school board unanimously voted to adopt the changes to the sensitive materials policy 9050.

Dozens of people attended Tuesday's meeting, with 13 giving input.

Opinions ranged from banning hundreds of books from the district's school libraries and reading lists to warning of the dangers of banning books and violating first amendment liberties.

Parent Diane Livingston criticized the policy’s wording and said the sensitive materials policy doesn't prevent pornography from making its way into schools. It only allows parents to either opt out of reading material they deem inappropriate or challenge books already in the curriculum.

She said HB 374 clearly describes pornography and states it cannot be part of school reading lists.

Livingston wants the policy to explain how books are selected for inclusion in schools. She claimed most people want to support teachers, but she is showing up for the students.

"I'm here for the one out of four who will probably be sexually abused by the time they graduate from our scholastic. That's the statistic right now may have a trigger reading something that isn't there like reality here. I'm here for the student who didn't opt out, because they didn't know if they should. I'm here for the student who struggles with pornography and just wants to get it out of her head and continues to be confronted with that. She should have a safe place and Utah law, HB 374 was passed to create such a space."

Another parent, Renee Miller, complained about Sherman Alexi's book, "The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," which has been used since 2013 when the author visited Park City and his novel was selected as a One Book community read.

Miller said she doesn't understand why teachers defend the book, which she said violates multiple laws.

“Last month an English teacher defended it with tears, saying this sensitive material stimulates conversation against parents' pleas. This sex-offending author was invited into our high school. Are we grooming future pornography addicts? Is that the education we're providing? This is violating multiple laws, multiple, multiple laws. And I wonder where's our Sheriff coming after all of you? Where is our Sheriff going after the principal? Where's our Sheriff going after the school district Superintendent Jill Gildea?”

Kathy Hannigan supported passing the sensitive materials policy and said parents and students have always been able to opt-out from reading books they disapprove of.

"Our certified teacher librarians are highly skilled, well trained, and ready to go any stats to the material they can engage with. The fastest way to get someone to read a book is to announce that it shouldn't be eliminated. It's 2022, and we have worse things to be afraid of than books."

Lara Lusher said she has always read school-assigned books with her children. She was shocked by a couple of books her daughter read in eighth grade. One of the books assigned, "Speak," is about a young girl who is raped but tells no one.

 "I'm adamantly against banning books. I think that's a slippery slope that can lead to stifling open-minded thought. That being said, I'm here today because I've been surprised by some of the literature that my daughter was given in this English program. And I am very open-minded when it comes to books. Reading with my daughter allowed me to have an extremely meaningful conversation with her about rape and how to handle things if she were ever raped or ever had a friend that she thought may have been raped. I love them. We read this together, but I could not help but feel that I would be very upset if my daughter had read that book without an interactive conversation with me."

Park City School District's sensitive materials policy 9050

Park City School District Board of Education Meeting October 17, 2022

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.