Not long after the most recent book challenge was pulled by its original protestor, the Highland Park ISD board of trustees voted to approve changes to EFA (LOCAL) policy. This vote comes after nearly a full school year of hot debate on literature selections and the policies that determine them.
Some of the policy edits that were approved reflect small but impactful wording changes. For example, the selection criteria now reads that instructional materials must “provide balanced information on opposing sides of controversial issues.” That was still a main concern among speakers during public comments.
“The opposing viewpoint is not being presented,” said HPHS parent Dudley Simms, whose son opted out of reading The Working Poor.
In addition to stating that principle must be placed “above personal opinion and reason above prejudice” when selecting texts, the wording was also amended to read that “literature selections shall not contain excessive or gratuitous explicit sexuality, excessive or gratuitous profanity, or excessive or gratuitous graphic violence.”
“We hold seriously the idea of balanced information,” superintendent Dawson Orr said.
[pullquote-left]”My daughter is now no longer at HPHS because of the problems I see going forward …” Tavia Hunt[/pullquote-left]
Parents had expressed concern at the last district meeting that only the first complaint on a book would be reviewed and considered by the district, so policy amendments changed to “consolidate” complaints from multiple people.
“So if you have five challenges that have five different rationales … you will consolidate the concurrent challenges,” trustee Joe Taylor said.
The approved policy also still allows for a student to sit on a reconsideration committee, as was the case with The Art of Racing in the Rain’s review. Some parents expressed concern during public comments that students may be pressured to vote one way or the other. But whether or not students will act as voting members may remain to be seen as the policy amendments are carried out.
“We felt that student input mattered,” Orr said.
On that note, much emphasis was placed on the fact that though the board has approved policy, the function of those policies carried out depends upon the entire community — parents, teachers, and students.
“This is where the rubber meets the road,” school board vice president Jim Hitzelberger said.
Many members of HP Kids Read, a group that has been against book suspensions since September, were present to witness the unanimous vote.
“We support the district and could tell that the policies and procedures represent an effort to compromise,” vice president Lynn Dickinson said. “Moving forward, we hope that the community can now come together and support the teachers and administrators as they give their new policies and procedures a test drive.”
However, not all parents in the audience were as pleased.
“My daughter is now no longer at HPHS because of the problems I see going forward and how it doesn’t appear that some people in the top of your administration don’t want to see this changed and fixed,” Tavia Hunt said. “I’m sad not to get to be a part of this community going forward, because we love HPISD and I think it’s a badge of honor that all who graduate wear proudly, and we’re sorry to miss out on that experience. But we’re not sorry to miss out on reading explicit literature.”