Richland School Board members sparred Tuesday night over whether the district's novel adoption process is ensuring only the best and most appropriate books are ending up in classrooms.
The board approved all eight novels presented during its regular board meeting, but board member Phyllis Strickler voted against two of the novels. She went on to criticize the district's review process as being no better than the lack of safeguards that were in place years before and led to the board's review.
"Unfortunately, in my opinion, I still feel we don't have appropriate safeguards," she said.
The board directed Superintendent Jim Busey to put a discussion of limiting certain books to specific courses on a future board agenda. However, board Chairman Richard Jansons defended the board's process and the books being brought up for review.
"I think there are safeguards and there is no perfect process unless we ban all novels," he said.
The board quickly approved four of the books, three of which had 100 percent recommendation by the district's Instructional Materials Committee, and one that had only one recommendation with reservations. Two other books also received unanimous approval from the board.
But the books Smack by Melvin Burgess and Street Pharm by Allison van Diepen didn't get such quick approval. The books are used in senior contemporary literature courses.
The discussion was similar to one had by the board earlier this year when three controversial books were up for review.
Strickler said the books shouldn't be used for instructional purposes, citing their use of profanity, obscenity and sexuality. She said the district hasn't done enough to prevent subpar literature in the classroom and too much of the onus is on parents to ask for book lists from teachers to check the books themselves.
"I think we need to be challenging our students better than we are," she said.
Jansons said the district's procedures are adequate and that there are plenty of opportunities for students to opt out of reading controversial books. He added that the books are for the district's oldest students and it is the district's job to teach students to think critically -- and that includes dealing with difficult subjects and language.
"These aren't 5-year-olds," he said. "We don't live in a Pollyanna world."
Strickler said it's not subject matter that is her issue, but the language used and that there are books with similar themes that could be used instead.
Two citizens, David Garber and Calvin Manning, also spoke on the subject.
Garber asked the board to not approve Smack and Street Pharm. "I would argue much of the content in these books is indistinguishable from porn magazines," he said.
Manning said the board should tighten up its policies to ensure books approved for specific courses aren't eventually used in lower grade levels.
Also Tuesday, the board may limit students from enrolling in certain schools outside their normal attendance areas.
Badger Mountain and White Bluffs elementary schools currently are beyond capacity but still are accepting students from outside their areas.
Busey said he would discuss the issue with other district officials and report back to the board.
-- Ty Beaver 582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org