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Parents at Laurel Nokomis Middle School in Sarasota, Florida became outraged when they learned their children were reading the child pornography book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Speak is about a 13-year old being raped.
One of the parents submitted a complaint to the Sarasota County School Board to have the book removed from the Laurel Nokomis reading list. The book is used in a “gifted language arts class” taught by Jewell DeMarco. It is the language used in the book that the parents object to.
Speak promotes “group rate abortions” on page 30. Other examples of bad behaviors in the book are: “Student steals late passes” (theft) – page 26, “sleep with the football team on Saturday night and be reincarnated as virginal goddesses on Monday” (promiscuity)- page 29; “slit my throat” (child suicide) – page 32, and “the crowd bumping and grinding the horny Hornet heinies” (group sex) – page 141.
Speak also contains graphic language including: “bitch”- page 20, “Asshole” – page 28, “pissed” – pages 30, 64 and 74, “Bitchy”- page 163. Other words and phrases used throughout the book are too graphic to include in the column.
A parent submitted a written request to have the child pornography book removed to Nancy Dubin, Principal of Laurel Nokomis Middle School. According to a letter to the District Superintendent provided to WDW – FL, “On June 21, 2013 I received a Patron’s Request for Reconsideration of instructional Material from [redacted]. The challenged material is the book, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, an award-winning novel, currently used in our 8th grade gifted language arts class.”
Dubin convened a curriculum council to review the appropriateness of the book for 8th graders. The council members at the school level were all teachers or administrators at Laurel Nokomis School. A member of the panel was DeMarco, the only teacher in the school using the book. The council reached the conclusion that “the material is appropriate for the end of eighth grade”, stating:
“We feel this book should remain as an end of 8th grade book selection, with an alternate selection provided. It provides our students with a guided, approach to think about some of the choices that will face many of them within ten weeks of 8th grade graduation, as they move into high school and are socializing with much older, more mature high school students.“
“Relevant book alerts students to potentially dangerous situations. Best used as a guided novel study at the end of the 8th grade. Theme fits in with LNS anti-bullying program. Book is used throughout the county and the country in middle schools, in 7th or 8th grade. One parent says, ‘Education is key. Censorship is never the answer.”‘ [Emphasis added]
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Scott Ferguson, Communications Specialist Sarasota County Schools, wrote in an email to WDW – FL , “I have heard from five other middle schools, Brookside, McIntosh, Heron Creek and Venice, and Pine View so far. None of these schools is using the book.” At the time WDW – FL posted this column Ferguson has not heard from: Booker Middle, Sarasota Middle or Woodland Middle.
“There is no state or district list of approved novels. As mentioned above, if a teacher wants to use a novel in a class, he or she must get approval from the principal. A list of books that will be used in the classroom is sent to parents at the beginning of the semester. As noted above, a parent can opt to have their child read an alternative selection if he/she objects to their child reading a book that is on the list,” states Ferguson. [Emphasis added]
Ferguson reports, “The challenge has now moved to the district level (see PDF with attached memo from Principal Nancy Dubin to Superintendent White and related documents from the school-level challenge. Student names have been redacted). For the district challenge, Sue Meckler, our director of Curriculum and Instruction, will determine the committee membership, per School Board Policy 4.3. The committee will not be able to meet until the fall because many of the required members are not on duty during the summer. However, the director will attempt to contact some members to see if they can serve on the committee. If so, they will be asked to read the book before the committee meets in the fall.” [Emphasis added]
Dubin, the principal, approves of the book taught by DeMarco. According to one parent, “The teacher [DeMarco] uses the book to denigrate the male students. She has them stand up and read passages from Speak in class. The teacher is using the book to push an agenda. It is child pornography, nothing more and nothing less. It does not belong in our public schools. We are have our youngest reading child porn sanctioned by a teacher. What message does that send? That is plain wrong!”
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