Deadlock on Prosser School Board leaves book in place

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMay 21, 2013 

— A book that faced removal from Prosser school libraries will remain on the shelves after all.

The Prosser School Board took a new vote Tuesday night on whether to accept a recommendation to keep Dave Pelzer's A Child Called It in middle and high school libraries. The vote deadlocked 2-2, which means the book's availability stands.

The vote overturned a prior board decision that didn't support keeping the book.

The atmosphere was sometimes tense during the board’s discussions. Teacher and Prosser Education Association President Fred Bray and board member Win Taylor verbally sparred over Taylor’s questioning of district librarian Vivian Jennings at the last meeting.

Taylor sought to postpone a final decision on Pelzer's book until the district develops a better policy for evaluating library books and said he thought the original decision should stand.

However, board member Gayle Wheeler said the board needed to make a decision. "We need to deal with this book, put it to rest and then deal with the policy," she said.

Rich Korb, a Prosser High School teacher, filed challenges to "A Child Called It" and Amy Ignatow's "The Popularity Papers" 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 about two girls, one who has two fathers, seeking the secret to being popular in middle 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 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, while Ignatow's promotes a political agenda, he said.

The board deadlocked on a vote earlier this month to remove Ignatow's book, so it will remain in school libraries. Also earlier this month, the board voted 3-1 to overrule Superintendent Ray Tolcacher's support for Pelzer's book based on a recommendation from the district's appointed instructional materials committee.

However, the board could not reach a decision about what to do with Pelzer's book, whether to remove it from Housel as well as Prosser High School's library, or only from the middle school.

Wheeler called for a new vote, saying she had been confused during the board's last discussion. Board Chairman Tim Rankin acknowledged the board's conversation was convoluted and confusing at times.

Bray, sixth-grade teacher Audra Distifeno and Jennings addressed the board. All three called for the book to remain.

Bray said the board does not understand that libraries are supplemental to curriculum in the schools. He added that the behavior of some board members toward Jennings at the last board meeting was unconscionable and called on the board, and Taylor specifically, to apologize to her as well as to the instructional materials committee for belittling their work.

“Vivian Jennings was grilled by one board member as if on trial for a crime,” Bray said.

Those comments led to Rankin to call for order and move Bray’s comments to an closed-door session. But Taylor said he wanted Bray to continue.

“I think Fred is making far worse slurs than were made (at the last meeting) and he’ll be held accountable,” Taylor said.

Taylor and board member Jermey Tuttle did end up telling Jennings during the meeting they meant her no offense and they were only seeking responses from her in her role as a professional.

“I value your service to the community immensely,” Taylor said.

Jennings still called for Pelzer’s book to remain in the libraries.

“I have no problem with (Tuttle’s) opinion, or Win’s opinion until it interferes with people’s right to access,” she told the board.

Board discussion also addressed policy, with Rankin and Taylor saying it isn't defined enough to properly handle challenges. No official decision was made on when the board will discuss overhauling the policy, however.

"I really want to help our parents," Rankin said. He noted there is no online database of library books or a rating system to help a parent decide if they want their child to have access to a book.

Korb said he was disappointed in the board's decision and that his challenges weren't properly handled because of the lack of clarity in district policy. But he did see a silver lining.

"I'm pleased this particular issue has forced them to look at policy," he said.

Also Tuesday:

-- Board member Travis Davis resigned his position on the board. Board members voted to accept his resignation. He said in a letter that he was moving to the Tri-Cities.

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service