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Book ban request under evaluation

Ely school board, administration working through due diligence on issue

Keith Vandervort
Posted 5/12/21

ELY –ISD 696 leaders continue to evaluate a book banning request made by a school parent last month, and school board chair Ray Marsnik spoke directly to the Ely community about the issue at …

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Book ban request under evaluation

Ely school board, administration working through due diligence on issue

Posted

ELY –ISD 696 leaders continue to evaluate a book banning request made by a school parent last month, and school board chair Ray Marsnik spoke directly to the Ely community about the issue at the end of the school board’s regular meeting Monday night.
“We are all aware of the situation. The administration is evaluating it and will take whatever action is necessary and appropriate,” he said. “This is my 20th year on the school board and this is the first time I have ever been confronted with something of this nature. It is new to me and I’m sure it is new to (the rest of the school board).”
Marsnik stressed the importance that the school district follow the chain of responsibility in addressing the request to ban a book from the required reading list of the high school junior-level English class.
“Eventually, this could come to the board, but right now it is not there,” he said. “Hopefully, this will get resolved internally so that doesn’t have to come to us. We are a way from that.”
At an April school board meeting, a district parent voiced his objection to a book on the eleventh-grade English required reading list and requested the board remove the book from the list.
Parent Chad Davis, who has a son in the class, initially asked for clarification on how the book came to be donated to the school district, how it was accepted, and how the decision was made to have the title included in the high school English curriculum.
Funds were donated by the Ely Empower group to the school district late last year, according to Superintendent Erik Erie. Decisions on specific books included in school curriculum are made by the school staff and administration.
The book in question is “I am Still Here, Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness,” by Austin Channing Brown. The book was published in 2018 by Crown Publishing Group.
The New York Times bestseller is described this way: “From a leading voice on racial justice, an eye-opening account of growing up Black, Christian, and female that exposes how white America’s love affair with ‘diversity’ so often falls short of its ideals.”
In raising his objections, Davis said, “I read the book. (It is) a book filled with hate speech, racial division, anti-white rhetoric and cancel culture all rooted in critical race theory. This book isn’t written well, nor has it any literary value. It is one person’s jaded perspective about a specific race,” he said.
Davis, along with some other parents, sent an email describing their concerns to the English teacher, James Lah, 6-12 Principal Megan Anderson, Erie and the school board. A virtual online meeting was held, involving Davis, Lah and Anderson.
“Little to nothing was accomplished other than the book will not be removed and will continue to be required reading,” Davis said to the school board last month.
Since the controversy arose, Marsnik said he researched the issue and looked at how dozens of other school districts address such issues. He said he consulted with the Minnesota School Board Association about school board policy on the issue.
“They recommend that we adopt Policy 606 that deals with textbooks and instructional materials,” he said. “This is one policy that we do not have now.”
Marsnik said the MSBA policy allows for the district superintendent “to be responsible for the development of guidelines and procedures to identify the steps that are followed for reconsideration of textbooks and instructional materials.”
“We do not have that, but this is something we can add to our policy, and with that we set up a chain of responsibility,” he said, “starting with a citizen complaint and ending with any school board involvement.”
School board member Rochelle Sjoberg said emails from parents on the issue continue to be sent to the district. “The emails are directed at us to make a decision, and we are clearly not at that level yet,” she said.
Erie told school board members that the Memorial School English Department reviewed the book and the curriculum ban request. “They will have a recommendation that will go to the 6-12 principal. The principal will make a recommendation and it will be discussed at our advisory council committee later this month,” he said. “And there are appeals processes in place. That has been communicated to those families that brought this to your attention.”
Any adopted school district policy is required to go through three readings at consecutive school board meetings before approval. The school board will discuss the issue at an upcoming study session.
Facilities project
The $20 million school building renovation project is off and running. Erie reported to board members that the asbestos abatement project is underway in the Industrial Arts building and former boiler building.
Asbestos must be removed before those structures can be demolished to make room for new construction.
“They did find asbestos in the boiler building and removed that. This week they moved exclusively into the Industrial Arts building,” he said.
The Phase 2 construction bid tabulation is scheduled to occur in the high school media center this week. The school board will consider bid recommendations from project construction managers Kraus-Anderson and make approvals at a special meeting on Monday, May 24.
“ARI (the district’s project architect) was here last week with flooring and wall samples to consider,” Erie said.
A building project groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for Thursday, May 27 at 11 a.m. The public is invited to the event.
Other business
In other business, the board:
• Adopted the modification of the school calendar to end on June 2 for elementary students due to the construction project.
• Approved the elementary school science curriculum review report.
• Approved a cost-neutral seven-period school day for the 2021-22 school year, with class times reduced from 55 minutes to 50 minutes.
• Agreed to return to in-person regular school board meetings with the remote attendance option available for the public.
• Hired Tim Hogan for the Industrial Technology teacher position, beginning Aug. 30.
• Accepted the resignation of Caleb Cowden from the temporary part-time custodian position.
Accepted the resignations of paraprofessionals Kim Anderson, Kaylor Nicolson and Jason Linkous.
• Adopted a resolution relating to the termination and non-renewal of the teaching contract of Timothy Singleton, a probationary teacher.
Approved Kelly Noble as assistant volleyball coach.

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