Administrators have made it clear that during the December school board meeting set for Monday, Dec. 9, rather than focusing on the specific case of “Bless Me, Ultima,” they will instead discuss board policies and ways parents can move forward with their grievances against the education process.
With the expectation of a large attendance, the meeting will take place at 7 p.m. in the Driggs Elementary Auditorium.
“The school board’s role is we set policy for the district,” said Teton School District School Board President Doug Petersen. “We don’t even want to get into a book that says ‘this’ or says ‘that,’ we will not dictate curriculum.”
After lengthy classroom disruptions and a controversy that exploded across social media, Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme decided to suspend the book from the sophomore English class required reading list. He cited the novel’s use of profanity as inappropriate and proper cause for his decision. “Bless Me, Ultima” is still available in the school’s library.
“We are not talking about banning a book,” said Petersen.
Woolstenhulme said he chose not to read the novel. The novel is not the focus of Monday’s meeting, but they will discuss the district policies to ensure that classroom disruption of this magnitude, centered around the text, doesn’t happen again.
At 8:05 p.m., the board is scheduled to discuss policies 2340, 2500-2540 and 4120 in the policy manual review, with the subsequent agenda point covering the THS English Department. The meeting will close with public comments.
According to policy 2340, “The Board recognizes the need for the teacher to have the freedom to discuss and teach subjects and issues which may be controversial. Such subjects and issues may include but not necessarily be limited to (1) politics, (2) science, (3) health and sex education and (4) values and ethics.”
However, in the policy’s language this responsibility is also guided by community standards, morals and values, and provides for parents who wish their children to be excused from such topics based on moral or religious values with suitable alternative assignments.
Further, the board will discuss policy 2540, which outlines material removal when judged inappropriate through the Learning Materials Review Process. This process begins with written complaints and progresses through the Uniform Grievance Procedure, outlined in policy 4120.
“My biggest fear is they’re going to put limitations on our teachers,” said Sue Muncaster, Teton High School volleyball coach, mother of two and a founding member of Teton Valley Parents Lobbying for Educational Advancement [PLEA]. “No one is going to want to teach here, or … we’re going to end up with a monoculture in [the] classroom.”
However, without administrators reading the linchpin causing the policy discussion, Muncaster does not see how a fair and balanced decision can be reached.
“Teachers are doing a great job, and I think we need to get out of their way,” said Muncaster. “I’m hoping the administration does not make any wide-reaching, limiting decisions that limit [critical thinking].”
Muncaster retains that nobody should be forced to read the book, but the concerned parents that constitute PLEA maintain that the discussion move away from the morality surrounding teaching Bless Me, Ultima and center on retaining options in the public school system.
In their opposition to the suspension of “Bless Me, Ultima,” PLEA has issued a petition calling on Woolstenhulme to recant his decision. They feel as though his decision violated the board policies as they are currently written and the federal law protecting educational freedom. Their petition calls for the reinstatement of “Bless Me, Ultima” into the curriculum, and had 25 signers at the time of publication.
“We believe Superintendent Woolstenhulme’s decision to override the English teachers and Principal Mello’s assignment of an alternative book due to student and parent objections to profanity and to suspend “Bless Me, Ultima” from the entire THS sophomore English program violates these policies. His action also violated national laws protecting our teachers’ and students’ educational freedom in public schools,” reads the petition off their change.org petition.
Also to be discussed at the meeting will be the school board’s elementary school facility review and the bids for buying a new bus and the fuel to run it.