Richland School Board rejects parent's bid to ban book

RICHLAND -- A novel containing language and descriptions some parents found objectionable will continue to be taught in college-level classes at Richland high schools after the school board denied a parent's appeal Wednesday.

The novel -- Snow Falling on Cedars, by Washington writer David Guterson -- is one of several books students can choose to read in an Advanced Placement English language and composition class at Hanford High School.

The book was selected for the curriculum 12 years ago because it deals with prejudice against Japanese-Americans in the Pacific Northwest during and shortly after World War II, teachers have said in district documents.

Calvin Manning, a West Richland parent of a junior in the district, filed a complaint about the book in November, requesting it be removed from the curriculum due to passages he called "lewd, vulgar and profane."

Manning's daughter is not in the class in which the book can be used, he told the Herald. Manning is a member of a group of parents who monitor the literature used in Richland schools.

The complaint was rejected first by the principal, then by the district's instructional material committee and finally by Superintendent Jim Busey. Wednesday's board meeting was the final level of appeal for Manning.

All but one of the board members voted to deny Manning's appeal and to keep the novel on the list of optional materials for the Hanford class.

Board member Phyllis Strickler was the lone vote in favor of Manning's appeal.

In its decision, the board grappled not only with balancing the merits and drawbacks of this one novel, but also the guidelines for selecting literature for students in general.

In his opening comments to the board, Manning had lamented the fact that no set criteria exist for book selection that easily could be reproduced by future school boards.

Strickler offered some criteria.

"What could be printed in a newspaper could be a standard for the (instruction material committee)," she said. "Another standard -- if we opened up some of the passages and read them out loud, I think there'd be many of you who'd be offended. This is indicative of a community standard we need to uphold."

Board member Rick Donahoe said he read passages in the book he found "unnecessary." But he said his standard was whether the book relates to the district's mission of turning students into critical thinkers who can be successful in the global community.

"I want the district to expose my kids to things they're not comfortable with, things they could run into outside of Richland," Donahoe said. "Snow Falling on Cedars does that."

Strickler countered that "there are other excellent books that do that, which are free of this objectionable content."

Placing a novel on the curriculum means the district endorses it and considers it a preferred book, Strickler said.

But, "the objectionable parts disqualify (this novel) for the Richland School District," she said.

The presence of swear words doesn't disqualify the book, said board President Richard Jansons, and neither do the descriptions of sexual acts.

"We need to expose kids to social issues in a safe place," he said, adding that he trusted teachers to guide students through the passages in question.

Not having the book -- sections of which are referenced in the national Advanced Placement test -- in Richland schools would be a disservice to students, he said.

"My rights as a parent with my five kids are being taken away by taking away a book that's on a national test," Jansons said.

-- Jacques Von Lunen: 509-582-1402; jvonlunen@tricityherald.com