Council Rock School Board okays books despite some pushback

Written by Brett Duffy

At a June meeting, the Rock School Board approved the inclusion of two novels in the district’s curriculum next year — despite the opposition of several board members.

The two novels in question were “The Giver,” an adult dystopian novel by Lois Lowry, and “In the Time of the Butterflies,” a historical fiction novel by Julia Alvarez.

Among the audience members who have expressed support for the books is Washington Crossing resident Priscilla Linden.

“I am concerned that two books recommended last month at the Education Committee meeting will be selected for possible removal from the approved curriculum tonight,” she said. “The professional judgments of our teachers and the positive responses of our students should not be censored by a small group of politically motivated adults.”

Board members Bob Hickey, Michael Roosevelt, and Christine Marcel have expressed concerns about the books’ age-appropriateness.

Hickey said, “If this (“The Giver”) was a high school book, I’d be yes. But for the seventh graders, given all they’ve been through in the past two years, I feel at this point it’s an unsuitable book for their ages.”

Fellow board member Kristen Marcel added, “I have a daughter this age, and I’m thinking about the past two years in terms of what she’s been through… Some of the topics in the book also interest me in terms of some of the more tragic events that have happened at Council Rock recently.”

Board member Marian McKee, who has been supportive of separate proposals to approve both books, sought to explain why the Board approved them.

“I would like to remind us that we are here to support education which means supporting teachers. They are our specialists, they are in the classroom who recommend subjects to us, who have taught books or have seen children enjoy books of rich literature that should be available to our students.”

Board member Edward Tate agreed. “I believe that a book that has stood the test of time recommended by our teachers and loved by our students deserves the approval of the Board of Directors.”

Chairman Edward Salamon acknowledged the concern some parents might have, but ultimately said he trusted the management of new superintendent Dr. Andrew Sanko to correct any books reported in the future. As such, the Council voted 5-3 (the absence of one member) to approve both texts.

Another topic that garnered a lot of discussion from the board of directors is the approval of the Membean textbook resource, an elementary vocabulary assessment currently in use by the district.

Board member Michael Thorwart had particularly strong feelings about the program after his child had a negative experience with it.

“The better you are, the more difficult it becomes to get the grades you want because it punishes the better people,” he said.

Salamon asked Special Mission Officer Hannah Pressman to clarify the program and address some of Thorwart’s concerns.

Pressman said, “If you do increasingly well in the program, you may get more difficult words or more words than other students…the emphasis is not on the degree, but more on the words.”

Other members also expressed concerns about the program’s grading system, but said those concerns could be addressed by the new administration. The final vote was 7-1, and Thorwart’s only “no.”

The meeting concluded with two other people (Brittany Kossen from Jamison and Gregory Petty from the Netherlands) making general comments regarding the need for civics education in schools and the modernization of mental health programs in the region, respectively.

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