Committee OKs disputed book
Young adult novel remains in Manawa school library
By Holly Neumann
The Nov. 29 vote came two weeks after district resident Stacey Trinrud told committee members that the book, written by John Green, contains sexually explicit encounters and normalizes dishonesty, hazing, underage drinking and smoking.
The book is available to ages 11-18 in the district’s library.
Committee member Hélène Pohl said it important to acknowledge the fears and concerns that the parents have for what their children are reading.
“I have the greatest respect for parental involvement and engagement in their children’s education,” Pohl said. “Every parent has the right to tell their children what to read, On the other hand, every child needs to feel represented in the library collection and feel respected in his or her idiosyncrasies, no matter how uncomfortable adults feel. Whether students are of age or not, they have the right to read.”
Pohl reported on the district’s latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 2019.
According to that survey, taken by 81% of Little Wolf High School students, 5% drove after drinking; 11% came to school under the influence of drugs or alcohol; 19% felt they did not belong at the school; 32% of females experienced prolonged and disruptive sadness; 17% considered suicide; 13% had a plan and 7% attempted suicide; 35% have had sexual intercourse; 28% are sexually active; 54% are vaping; and 21% binge drink.
“Do we intend to pretend that these students do not exist?” Pohl asked. “We cannot escape this reality. Books play a big part in a student’s development. A wide array of points of view and experiences will help these students grow into confident and wise adults. They need to feel reflected by the books in our library.”
Committee member Jeremy Bennett said the committee should not be the morality police.
“We are being asked to protect our community, but I don’t think we are protecting our community by denying them the ability to have a conversation with our children about the real world things that the kids in this book are exposed to,” he said. “Suicide is a reality. Death is a reality. Sexuality is a reality. The book is aimed at the people who need to have those conversations.
“Are there going to be teenagers that take the wrong view from this book?” he said. “Possibly, but it is not our job as a member of the community to make that decision. That is something that has to be done in the family for the family by the family.”
“Our teens are maturing at much different rates,” committee member Meredith Paul said. “Some are being exposed to mature subject matter in their daily lives through social media, television, musical lyrics and relationships with peers. I believe that if we begin to censor books that in general have a solid message and accolades from literary professionals, we need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves what are trying to keep our children from or better yet, what are we trying to keep from our children.”
Trinrud, who filed a complaint about “Looking for Alaska” with the district, said she is not happy with the committee’s vote.
“Why stop with this book?” she said. “I think they should probably add the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ trilogy as well. If we can’t censor kids and we want them to have a wealth of information, I am sure they could find acceptable material in that book as well.”
According to district policy, Trinrud can submit a written appeal within 10 business days of receiving the decision. If no appeal is submitted, the process would be complete and the book would remain in the library collection.
The district has a young adult access procedure in place for middle school students. Parents are given three options to choose from: no young adult books for their child, prior parent approval for young adult books or any book in the library.
Overall, 83.61% of middle school students can read anything they want, 11.48% have to have permission by book and 4.92% cannot read a young adult book.
High school students do not complete the form.
“Looking for Alaska” is not a part of the instructional materials for the district, nor is it considered a textbook. It is a part of the library circulation for leisure reading and has been checked out three times in the past year.