As calls for book bans rise, what’s happening in DougCo schools?

Suzie Glassman

By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver

(Castle Rock, CO) The Douglas County school district has one book under review after a parent formally challenged the district’s allowance of Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a boy soldier by Ishmael Beah.

According to the parent’s complaint, her freshman brought home the book as part of an assignment for his English diversity of perspectives unit. The novel passed the district’s review process in 2020, requiring 9th and 10th graders to receive parental permission to read it.

The parent said she signed the permission slip without reading it.

In the complaint, she says, “Throughout the book, there are graphic depictions of violence beyond, in my opinion, what is appropriate for high school readers. I believe exposing kids to these types of images can contribute to depression, anxiety, or, conversely, it can desensitize them to violence.”

The district’s Challenge Resource Committee, which includes members of the District Accountability Committee, Student Advisory Committee, one student, and representatives from Legend High School, will meet on Oct. 25 to hear testimony, review novel resources, and write a recommendation for Superintendent Erin Kane.

In November, Kane will report her decision to the board of education, which anyone who objects can appeal at the following board meeting.

About A Long Way Gone

In A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah recounts his time as a boy soldier in Sierra Leone at 13 after becoming an orphan the year before. The once gentle child finds himself committing terrible acts of violence.

According to the book’s website, Beah is “eventually released by the army and sent to a UNICEF rehabilitation center in Freetown, he struggled to regain his humanity and to reenter the world of civilians, who viewed him with fear and suspicion. This is, at last, a story of redemption and hope.”

The district’s novel adoption approval form says, “This story illuminates a topic that is both high interest and not well known to students. Being able to read about experiences vastly different from their own not only enables them to learn more about the word, it helps them to develop empathy, curiosity, and compassion.”

Book bans on the rise

A recent report by PEN America, a free speech advocacy organization, found that 1,145 books were banned from schools across the country between July 2020 and March 2021. The majority of those books are fiction titles that deal with some aspect of race, gender identity, or sexuality.

According to EdWeekly, PEN America analyzed news stories and found that “books had been banned in 2,899 schools across the country over the nine months. PEN America also found 1,586 decisions to ban a book from a library, classroom, or curriculum.”

“We are witnessing the erasure of topics that only recently represented progress toward inclusion,” Jonathan Friedman, Director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program and lead author of the report, told EdWeekly.

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