Index to Challenged Reading Materials

  1. Introduction
  2. Appendix A: Letter to Principals
  3. Appendix B: Staff Feedback to Parent Review
  4. Appendix C: Letter from Principals

Request for Reconsideration of Instructional Material

Richland School District

Date Submitted: December 1, 1998 Submitted by: Teri Sharp and Karen Batishko

The K-12 literature curriculum is like a giant puzzle whose picture is only complete after thirteen years of education. Each book in the curriculum is one piece of the finished puzzle, with the repetitious themes of hopelessness, suicide, the meaninglessness of life, deviant sex, and violence a part of the completed picture. One can easily envision an extremely unhealthy picture coming together as students collect the pieces of the puzzle with each year's accumulation of novels to be read.

It has become obvious nationwide that Joe Camel became a successful, dangerous seller of an unhealthy lifestyle to our youth due to the marketing techniques of an appealing presentation and repetitive appearances. It is equally obvious to us that the themes of deviant sex, suicide, the meaninglessness of life, a victim's mentality, drinking and drug use are being sold to students using a "Joe Camel" approach of repeatedly offering such lifestyles to students by appealing presentation in novels placed into students lives by influential teachers. (Repetitious thematic detriments to the adopted reading list are noted left in Appendix A: Letter to Principals.)

The book of Proverbs says to "rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter." (Proverbs 24:11, RSV) There are books on the reading list that are a hindrance to building healthy lives. Public schools should compile reading lists that guide students toward truth and virtue.

The Richland School District's Language Arts High School Teacher's Instructional Guide states in part that it is important for students to study literature so they may have "vicarious experiences" and be exposed to "other values and totems and taboos, often at sharp variance with their own." Many of these novels, however, do not provide healthy vicarious experiences, and the values they present are harmful to society. In some cases of sexual titillation, the experiences could not even be labeled vicarious, because they thrust students into harmful addictive behavior patterns such as voyeurism and stalking for sexual pleasure. In many books there is no clue given as to what behavior is harmful or unhealthy and sometimes the book, itself, exalts the behavior.

Seven novels have been selected for formal challenge; these are examples of the poor quality reading choices that are a part of the September 8, 1998 literature adoption. The novels are The Hot Zone, In the Lake of the Woods, Sometimes a Great Notion, Jay's Journal, Reviving Ophelia, The Bell Jar, and The Handmaid's Tale. It is requested that these novels be removed from the list of approved classroom instructional materials because the small or non-existent educational value of these books is entirely outweighed by their detriments.

The formal challenge procedure is being used because the school board has refused to look at the contents and effects of individual books during the adoption process, insisting that the challenge process is the proper mechanism for handling the discussion of appropriateness of individual novels.

The Staff Feedback on Parent Review, (Appendix B) gives a false assurance that these newly adopted novels will be properly handled in the classroom. Once it is understood that many of the novels are used in reading "lit-circles" there is cause for great concern. A reading "lit-circle" provides less teacher oversight and interaction with each student, and more peer input since students are free to be involved in different novels. For example, the Staff Feedback tells us that The Bell Jar, a "lit-circle" choice, is accompanied with discussions of suicide alternatives. A teacher can not guarantee that valuable discussions will take place on suicide alternatives at the APPROPRIATE moments for the student since the room is full of different readers reading different books and reacting together in different groups. The discussion may be just as depressing as the book itself, with the promotion of suicide as an outcome. As one reads the comments by staff supporting the use of In the Lake of the Woods, Reviving Ophelia, and The Hot Zone, it is obvious that the authors of the Staff Feedback lack the discernment necessary to sift truth from fiction or opinion in these books. For example, staff states that In the Lake of the Woods is used to teach students about the Vietnam War, which is called a contemporary issue. The War is not a contemporary issue in the students' lives nor is the book truthful. The author prides himself in making facts and fiction indistinguishable from each other, and deliberately confuses the reader by combining facts with fiction in the footnotes he uses throughout. One must be an expert on the Vietnam War to sort out that which is factual.

Two of the challenged novels, In the Lake of the Woods and Sometimes a Great Notion, have not been chosen by any teacher as instructional material for their class. One must question the motivation and justification for adopting novels for which there is no planned use. This action makes a mockery of staff's and community's investment of time in reviewing these books at the board's request. The letter from the principals (see Appendix C) verifies that five of the seven challenged novels (including the two above) are not used in either high school as whole-class reading projects. The removal of these books from the adopted materials list should have no objections or only minor ones since the teachers themselves have not selected them for use in classroom instruction. The remaining two challenged novels are used only at Hanford High school, and are championed by only a few teachers. Alternate, less offensive texts of excellent quality could easily be substituted for use in these classes. These facts suggest that the urgent insistence on the adoption of the entire list of eighty-four novels was done on the fictitious basis of "freedom to teach" rather than that of "freedom of speech". It appears that a handful of teachers, rather than being self-regulating in encouraging each other to choose the very best materials for instruction have begun demanding support of any radical decision so as to maintain control, rather than rely on a community standards for support.

This same handful of teachers has begun their response to book challenges by collecting positive evaluations of these books from sources outside the community, from such groups as The American Library Association (ALA) and The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Such evaluations show affirmation from organized social designers, but our school board must be willing to evaluate the intrinsic worth (or lack thereof) of a book as a teaching tool within the context of Richland's community standards. These organizations do not have the balance of values represented in our community and the community should not be forced to buy into objectionable agendas. (Position papers for ALA are on-line at or for "intellectual freedom" statements see and for NCTE at These groups, as well as others spoken of on these sites give NO recognition to the existence of pornography nor for the need of nurturing guidance for youth. Any radical idea holds equal value for these groups; i.e. they do not acknowledge virtue or character. In these ways they stand in direct opposition to family priorities that public schools should supportively acknowledge and in direct opposition to a significant segment of the Richland constituency

It has been said that getting the community to agree on a reading list would be impossible. That is absurd. At least half the books on the adopted reading list received both a fair number of reviews and agreement from the reviewers that the books were appropriate for high school classroom use. Elements in the community which desire to uphold a high ethical standard should not be offended without careful consideration when there are, in fact, reading selections that would not offend any major portion of the community.

The seven attached requests for reconsideration are individual challenges, but should also be evaluated in the context of the larger picture of which they are pieces. We ask that you consider the staggering number of suicides among youth, the increasing senseless violence and murder committed by youth, disease leading to lifetime affliction or death brought on by promiscuity, a lack of respect for human life, drug use that is increasing among our youth, and so much more; then remove these novels from classroom use and develop a more healthy outcome from our literature program.

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Title: The Bell Jar Author: Sylvia Plath

Publisher: Bantam Books, purchased for classroom use

  1. To what in the material do you object and what is the basis for your objection?
  2. For what age group would you recommend this material? None. Anyone presenting this book to youth risks being a significant motivator of teen suicide.
  3. Did you read, hear, or see the entire content? Yes, read entire content.
  4. What would you like your school to do about this material? This book lacks any educational value and should be considered a detriment to the list of classroom teaching materials.

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Title: Sometimes a Great Notion Author: Ken Kesey

Publisher: Penguin Books, This paperback edition published in 1977

  1. To what in the material do you object and what is the basis for your objection?
  2. For what age group would you recommend this material?This book is not appropriate in any classroom. The innocence of young readers will be forever lost once they "study" this trash. Isa 9:16 says "For those who guide this people are leading them astray; and those who are guided by them are brought to confusion." Teaching this material would be knowingly leading students astray and could even be the causal influence for some to be pushed into involvement in deviant sexual behavior.
  3. Did you read, hear, or see the entire content? read first 280 pages
  4. What would you like your school to do about this material? Because the educational value of this book is zero, and because of the harm it could do, the RSD should reconsider and avoid using it as a teaching tool.

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Title: The Handmaid's Tale Author: Margaret Atwood

Publisher: Fawcett Crest by Ballantine Books, twenty-first Printing: Dec. 1989

  1. To what in the material do you object and what is the basis for your objection?
  2. For what age group would you recommend this material? None. When a school glories in what is shameful then its destiny is its own destruction. Philippians 3:18-19
  3. Did you read, hear, or see the entire content? Yes, read entire book.
  4. What would you like your school to do about this material? What little educational value this book might have is more than outweighed by its "adult themes;" therefore, RSD should consider it age inappropriate for high school classroom instruction.

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Title: The Hot Zone Author: Richard Preston

Publisher: Anchor Books Doubleday, this edition published August, 1995

  1. To what in the material do you object and what is the basis for your objection?
  2. For what age group would you recommend this material? No age group should be made slaves to fear.
  3. Did you read, hear, or see the entire content? yes What parts? skimmed whole
  4. What would you like your school to do about this material? Any educational value in this book is destroyed by the fear it creates in the reader. RSD should refuse to use this book as instructional material.

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Title: Jay's Journal Author: Anonymous edited by Dr. Beatrice Sparks

Publisher: Pocket Books; First Pocket printing done June 1989

  1. To what in the material do you object and what is the basis for your objection?
  2. For what age group would you recommend this material? Without spiritual guidance, none.
  3. Did you read, hear, or see the entire content? Yes What parts? skimmed all
  4. What would you like your school to do about this material? The discrimination of dwelling on occultic-type religions while ignoring other religions reduces any educational value to naught. The District should reconsider and adopt a more pluralistic approach to teaching religions.

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Title: In the Lake of the Woods Author: Tim O'Brien

Publisher: Penguin Books, This paperback edition published in 1995

  1. To what in the material do you object and what is the basis for your objection?
  2. For what age group would you recommend this material?None. To give students a book full of raging lies is equivalent to waiting in ambush to commit murder; the helpless will be crushed and collapse. This is a grievous mistake.
  3. Did you read, hear, or see the entire content? information taken from community volunteer book reviews What Parts? skimmed whole book
  4. What would you like your school to do about this material? A book which combines fact and fiction in a deliberate attempt to distort the truth holds only a negative educational value and therefore should not be used as instructional material. Please reconsider its use for the classroom.

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Title: Reviving Ophelia Author: Mary Pipher

Publisher: Ballantine Books, with G.P. Putnam's Sons, First Ballantine Books Ed: Mar1995

  1. To what in the material do you object and what is the basis for your objection?
  2. For what age group would you recommend this material? None because truth should be the guiding light for education.
  3. Did you read, hear, or see the entire content? Yes, read entire contents.
  4. What would you like your school to do about this material? Errors in the author's opinion and logic and misuse of social science destroy the educational value of this book. Therefore it is a detriment as an instructional tool and its classroom use should be reconsidered and eliminated.

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Appendix A: Letter to Principals


We have found many reasons for alarm in the Secondary Literature Reading List as adopted by the Richland School Board on September 8, 1998:

  1. A quarter of the books on the list of eighty new novels include suicides; some of the books have suicide as their major theme.
  2. A quarter of the books include drinking and/or drug use, many demonstrating no negative consequences of such addictive behaviors and some promoting such use by alluding to "advantages" of drinking or drug use.
  3. Half of the books include deviant sexual behavior, many of them attempting to normalize such behavior. Deviant sex in these books includes voyeurism, stalking used for courtship, promiscuity used as revenge on a loved one, women's lib statements unhealthily stressing the dominance of one sex over the opposite sex, group orgies, oral sex, sex used as domination of one race over another, sex used as entertainment, teen dating as a platform for sexual activity, sex used as an escape from reality, homosexuality, incest, etc.
  4. A quarter of the books are depressing because of the lack of any character who will deal with the issues the author places in the book, making such books a statement of hopelessness and helplessness for the reader, and in too many cases advocating a victim's mentality.
  5. One all too common thread running through this list of reading material is the idea there is no way to know, discover, or analyze truth. Therefore, life itself is meaningless, and furthermore most aspects of living such as relationships, rituals, roles and even decisions, attitudes and actions are stripped of any meaning.

    The reasons for not using these materials far outweigh any benefits of their inclusion in the list of classroom instructional tools. These novels are so far from meeting district policy, and do not meet the mark for our language arts goals that we must wonder whether the promotion of unhealthy behaviors in our youth is an unspoken yet intended outcome. Whether you choose uplifting or degrading material, there will be outcomes. Can advocates of this curriculum honestly point to positive life outcomes resulting from their selections? If not, should that not be a call to a curriculum which can provide positive outcomes? "A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his own sinful nature, from that nature, will reap destruction." (Gal 6:7&8 NIV)

    It seems obvious to us that schools should be promoting a search for truth, but in the case of the literature curriculum, truth has been replaced by hedonism and students are unavoidably immersed in vicarious experiences which might tend to trap them in addictive behaviors, flooding them with shame and offering no avenue for escape. Apparently in school today, it is not enough to encourage students to think on " whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy" (Phil 4:8 NIV). Many of these books teach that bodily pleasures are the things most highly desired and the shamefulness of some of these books is the very attribute on which they become recommended. Those who teach with these tools, however, live as enemies to their students because they promote the seeds of the students' destruction. In order to maintain healthy student populations in public school, rather than driving students away to private and home schools, you should be striving to use the best quality materials available for instruction.

    We wish to schedule an appointment to discuss our concerns with you. As a representation of such poor quality reading we have chosen seven novels that we wish to voice concerns over at this time: Jay's Journal, Sometimes a Great Notion, The Hot Zone, The Handmaid's Tale, The Bell Jar, Reviving Ophelia, and In the Lake of the Woods.


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    Appendix B: Staff Feedback on Parent Review

    Staff Feedback on Parent Review

    General Comments: The thoroughness and thoughtfulness of these reviews were excellent. The community members who gave their time and energy to help us be better educators should be commended. We particularly appreciate the support and recognition of literary merit, as well as the insights offered to help meet the needs of our very diverse students. The Richland Community is outstanding in its commitment to providing children a top quality language arts education.

    Based on the report compiled by Wendy Polster, we identified the books on which we felt the board might want some additional information. Having read and discussed the individual reviews, we noted the various concerns raised by reviewers, regardless of overall rankings. Some reviewers mentioned strong language, depressing themes, perceived bias racially and sexually, violence, suicide, and other contemporary issues. These concerns are acknowledged and will receive attention as we teach these pieces. In this document, we have primarily focused on the context for teaching the book, the teaching objectives involved, and the methods that would normally be used. For any book that we teach, especially contemporary works, we make a point of alerting students to sensitive issues and provide alternative titles. We also carefully select works that are appropriate for the majority of students at a given grade level. We would be happy to answer any additional questions the board might have to facilitate the approval of the Language Arts adoption.

    Animal Dreams

    Context: 11th grade. Read by entire class. This is a love story and a tale of redemption. It shows horrific results of casual sex including pregnancy, disease, and emotional turmoil. Included in theme of American views of male/female relationships. Sibling relationships and care for parents by children celebrated. The protagonist learns to cherish parents and children.

    Objectives: Focus on male/female stereotypes. Importance of family and abstinence.

    Methods: Class discussion. Used in conjunction with Cold Sassy Tree.

    The Bell Jar

    Context: 10th grade. The theme is the hero in society, including the way society views failure. Opens the discussion of suicide, in terms of why suicide occurs. Plath, as a poet, is very sensitive to events such as her fathers death, and this colors her views of life.

    Objectives: Society 's assumptions and expectations put pressure on all of us, but some are more vulnerable. Alternatives to suicide discussed.

    Methods: Sylvia Plath's poetry will be used in conjunction with the book. Students may choose to do individual projects.

    The Brothers K

    Context: 12th grade. Northwest Writers. This book Great historical connections to the 60's. Delves into the intricacies of relationships within families.

    Objectives: Encourages students to be more aware of, more understanding of the way the actions of parents are influenced by their own childhood experiences. Emphasizes the power and importance of family unity.

    Methods: Investigate connections between this book and Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamozv.

    The Handmaid's Tale

    Context: 12th grade. AP World Literature, British and World Literature, Contemporary Literature. This book is taught in a number of contexts, including science fiction dystopian literature, modern literary criticism, contemporary issues of civil liberties, and the power of language and texts.

    Objectives: The book can be used to teach post-structuralist criticism, the dystopian genre, the modern novel, as well as an insight on American culture from a Canadian perspective.

    Methods: This book can be taught as a whole class discussion piece, or paired with other dystopian novels. Alternative titles are always available.

    In the Lake of the Woods

    Context: 12th grade Contemporary Literature, part of a Vietnam unit, including If I Die in a Combat Zone, and Dispatches which would give a full range of the Vietnam experience, including the long term impact of the Vietnam experience on soldiers and civilians alike. Individual choice book.

    Objectives:Class concerns contemporary issues, which involves Vietnam. Stream of consciousness writing, cross curriculum with social studies 20th century history and electives such as War and Peace.

    Methods: Students interview Vietnam vets, read historical accounts, watch documentaries, write poetry, have class discussions.

    Jay's Journal

    Context: 12th grade Contemporary Literature. This is a possible work in a unit on drug abuse and the poor choices that an adolescent makes. Included with the book are talks from community leaders regarding drug abuse.

    Objectives: Discuss the problems of drug abuse, poor choices, personal narrative, and diary format.

    Methods: This book is taught as an option with Go Ask Alice. Debates on legalization of drugs and class discussions are common activities. Numerous guest speakers provide a wide range of background information.

    The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

    Context: 12th grade. Northwest Writers. Written by a local, nationally acclaimed, writer who focuses on cultural diversity and Native Americans, the book addresses contemporary issues of alcoholism, poverty, suicide and marginalized culture in the context of the Native American experience. The format is very accessible in small chunks. While detailing much of the tragedy of the Native American experience, the hopes and dreams of all humanity are celebrated.

    Objectives:It introduces an important modern author. Multi-cultural and diversity issues explored.

    Methods: Excerpts can be used while some students read the entire book. May be part of the author research project. Class discussions of all or portions are common.

    The Hot Zone

    Context: 10th grade, man's place in society is the theme. Society is more and more dominated by fears about technology. A chilling account of a close encounter with the lethal virus Ebola which makes the readers aware that "the emergence of AIDS, Ebola, and any number of other rain-forest Agents (may be) a natural consequence of the ruin of the tropical biosphere." This book is a pate turner that proves truth is more frightening than fiction and that the future of the planet rest on our abilities to show respect for all global biospheres.

    Objectives: Inclusion of more non-fiction is being encouraged by the state. While books such as Robin Cook's are excellent fiction, part of the purpose is to read non-fiction. The discussion allows students to explore modern issues of technology's ability to be so destructive. Mass hysteria and frustration, the powerlessness of the masses accompany this fear.

    Methods: Taught in conjunction with scientific articles discussing similar concerns. Cross curricular connection to science.

    The House on Mango Street

    Context: 9th grade. The book is exceptionally readable and deceptively simple. Ideas and ideals of the heroic are celebrated in the protagonist in her recognition of her plight, understanding of the obstacle she faces, and her realistic appraisal of what she can achieve. And in the face of it all, she decides to keep trying. This does not address the failed heroic, but the heroic on an everyday scale.

    Objectives: The language is authentic to the voice of the narrator. Excellent teaching tool for writing. The vignettes are excellent bits of narrative, and the language is pure poetry. The book is used so extensively across the state that excerpts from the book, which were to appear on the state test, were removed. Recognition of diverse voices.

    Methods: Class discussion. Writing Assignments: Identifying theme and providing support by selecting from the vignettes that would support given themes. Excellent model for the personal narrative, especially voice.

    One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

    Context: 11th grade. Ken Kesey, one of the finest American authors, did research in mental institutions before writing this book. It is considered one of the best examples of contemporary American literature, particularly literature that explores social issues.

    Objectives: Language of characters can be strong, but it is used as a way to develop character. This helps students explore their own use of language, especially the way language can express powerlessness, frustration, and anger. Used in a unit on standing up for what you believe, even when disenfranchised and weak. It also shows the power of a dream to unify and allow their humanity to shine through.

    Methods: Can be used in conjunction with Of Mice and Men, especially considering the exploration of societal outcasts, their struggle to connect with the American dream, and the ultimate sacrifice of a loved one to redeem themselves and that dream.

    Reviving Ophelia

    Context: 10th grade. The book addresses how society views women and molds their views of themselves. How it defines the "heroic" for women. Males and females would both benefit from reading the book, should they choose to do so. Instruction is important, especially for boys who find writing about the female experience difficult to comprehend/value.

    Objectives: Non-fiction piece. Mary Pipher, a clinical psychologist examines female adolescence in contemporary America and concludes that the society they inhabit is "girl-poisoning." This book deals with divorce, eating disorders, sexual pressure, and other real-world problems. Today's teenagers face serious pressures at an earlier age than ever before and Pipher discusses how this effects girl's math scores, depression levels, and self-esteem. These dangers can jeopardize their futures and it is critical that we help our young people understand these circumstances and allow both girls and boys to find a more positive course of action. This book is a useful tool.

    Methods: The scope of the research would provide students an excellent opportunity to review and extend the "anecdotal" quality of the book. Individual projects would be used more than whole group instruction.

    The River Why

    Context: 12'h grade. Northwest Writers. The book is written by a local writer from Portland. It contains tremendous metaphors of fishing, Christian symbolism, and redemption. Students will be engaged by the familiar settings and language.

    Objectives: To introduce a prominent Northwest writer. Raises issues of "Who I am? Where do I belong?"

    Methods: River Teeth is read first. Students may choose River Why or The Brothers K after a thorough book talk. Student may choose this author for an author project.

    The Sky Fisherman

    Context: 12th grade - Northwest Writers. This book is used in connection with Winterkill, since both discuss growing up in a Northwest setting. This book is very accessible and appealing to our students.

    Objectives: This is a book about search for self and coming of age. Multi-cultural. A young man must grow up and deal with the difficulties and moral ambiguities of adulthood. He does so very well. The episodic story line culminates in his increased understanding of the grown-up world. This literary technique brings the reader into the process along with the protagonist.

    Methods: May be used as a full class read, or individual extension book. Issues and actions discussed thoroughly.

    The Truth Trap

    Context: Adolescent Lit for struggling 10th grader. Good introduction to Lord of the Flies with its exploration of a young person's betrayal by society. The bitterness of a young person victimized by society can be healed by the love and support of a good, spiritual family. Students may chose to read this book or several other alternatives.

    Objectives: Introduction to The Lord of the Flies, it discusses the relationship between individuals and society and the responsibilities that exist between them

    Methods: An individual choice with book talks and instruction as to the books themes and issues.

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    Appendix C: Letter from Principals

    November 18,1998

    Dear Teri Sharp and Karen Batishko,

    The purpose of this letter is to acknowledge that we met today to discuss your concerns regarding some of the books that were adopted by the Richland School District Board of Directors. We outlined the process in RSD Policy 2311, RR page 9, F: Complaints Regarding Instructional Materials. We discussed the current use of the books you had concerns about in the Language Arts Departments at Hanford High School and Richland High School which are summarized as follows:

    BookHanford High SchoolRichland High School
    Jay's JournalUsed in Senior Elective "Contemporary Literature"
    Used as a Lit Circle book
    3 copies available for
    individual check-out
    Sometimes A Great Notion Not used or purchased1 copy available for
    individual check-out
    Hot ZoneUsed in one 10th grade class
    Full class set (35) purchased
    Not planning on using yet
    Full class set (35) purchased
    Handmaid's TaleUsed in A.P. Lit (all)
    and in British/World Lit (optional)
    Full set (35) already in place
    No copies
    Bell Jar Full set (35) purchased
    Used in one10th grade class
    To be used as Lit Circle choice
    copy available for
    individual check-out
    Reviving OpheliaFull set (35) purchased
    Used in one IOh grade class
    To be used as Lit Circle choice
    I copy available for
    individual check-out
    In the Lake Of the WoodsNot Used or Purchased I copy available for
    individual check-out

    We understand that you are requesting that the above books be removed from the curriculum of the language arts departments of the high schools. We gave you copies of the Richland Schools' "Request for Reconsideration of a Book or Instructional Material" form. We understand that you will be submitting those to us soon in accordance with policy 2311.

    If you have any questions about the process, be sure to contact one of us.


    Dave Bond,
    Joan Hue,

    Index to Challenged Reading Materials

    1. Introduction
    2. Appendix A: Letter to Principals
    3. Appendix B: Staff Feedback to Parent Review
    4. Appendix C: Letter from Principals
    5. Return to Top of Page