Prosser teacher appeals to school board over books

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldApril 28, 2013 

PROSSER -- Two books challenged by a Prosser High School teacher will go before the Prosser School Board in a final effort to have them removed from school libraries.

Rich Korb recently filed a request for the board to review a decision from Superintendent Ray Tolcacher, who agreed to keep Dave Pelzer's A Child Called It and Amy Ignatow's The Popularity Papers on school bookshelves. Board members are reading the books ahead of possibly discussing them May 7.

Tolcacher said he concurred with the district's instructional materials committee's recommendation not to remove the books, and that parents bear some responsibility for knowing what their children are reading.

The district's process for book challenges is to have them go before the committee and then to the superintendent, who reviews the group's decision. Final appeals are made to the school board.

"If I was a parent, that's how I'd want it," Tolcacher said of the current system.

Korb, a social studies teacher, said he thinks the books will remain in the district's libraries despite his protest. However, he feels obligated to push forward because of his objections to the books' content and writing.

"Otherwise it's me accepting the recommendations and I don't accept that," he said.

Korb filed challenges to the books this winter. A Child Called It is an autobiography of Pelzer's childhood abuse at the hands of his alcoholic mother. The Popularity Papers is the fourth book in a series written by Ignatow about two girls, one who has two fathers, seeking the secret to being popular in middle school that also describes the two main characters' lives at home and school.

The books are not required reading and only available to certain grade levels. A Child Called It is available at Housel Middle School, but only to seventh- and eighth-graders who have parental permission to read it. The Popularity Papers is available for checkout at two elementary schools, but only for fifth-graders.

Korb said the books contain poor writing that doesn't serve an educational purpose, but he also has criticized their content. Pelzer's book is too graphic for students, he said, while Ignatow's promotes a political agenda.

Tolcacher said Pelzer's book has graphic passages, but it is up to parents to review what their children read and restrict them if necessary. He said Ignatow's book addresses issues common to middle school students and doesn't force any views on readers.

Korb's written requests for a board hearing on the books restates some of his earlier concerns, but adds that:

-- parental permission for books wouldn't be necessary if the district was responsible in selecting material,

-- the books display actions that would not be allowed in schools

-- and the parent notification system is ineffective.

"Ethically and professionally speaking, I feel I have to take it the full length of the process," Korb said.

The exact format of the hearing is not known, though Tolcacher said public comment could be received by the board.

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