A majority of Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District Trustees want to decide what books get piloted by students — a move that some worry will open the door to book bans and strip the voice of educators in deciding curriculum material.

District trustees at their Tuesday meeting voted 3-2 to introduce a revision to their book selection and evaluation policy that requires them to vote on books before they get tested with students and not a literature review committee – made up of educators and parents.

Trustee Todd Frazier, who called for the policy revision, and Trustee Leandra Blades have said the change will bring more transparency and accountability to the book selection process.

“There’s no oversight up till this point in the process. There has been none,” Blades said.

Some parents have raised concerns that the proposed policy change may lead to book bans while others are worried about the type of material and books being tested and used in classrooms.

“I think that if you eliminate the voice of the (Literature) Review Committee, it will lead to books being banned in our district,” parent Brooke Harper said in a phone interview last week.

Frazier called for the change in policy after Blades recently raised concerns with some of the language used towards women in an Iranian revolution book that was piloted with 11th grade students.

The school board ended up unanimously approving the Iranian revolution book. 

[Read: Iranian Revolution Novel Debate Spurs Book Ban Fears in an OC School District]

Trustee Carrie Buck said the elected trustees are not qualified to decide what books get tested.

“We’re not experts in this field,” Buck said at the meeting. “We should not be the five that are determining this before it goes through any of the process.”

“I’m just trying to protect students,” Frazier interjected.

The revision would also require district officials to inform parents when a book is being piloted and give them the option to opt their kids out.

Trustee Marilyn Anderson and Buck supported informing parents that a book is being piloted, but opposed the board members deciding what book gets tested.

In the current policy, the district’s Literature Review Committee decides what books get tested in the district after a teacher requests a book to be piloted.

“We already go through a process where we look carefully at our district and who we are,” said Superintendent Michael Matthews. “And we bring books forward that we think can be acceptable in our community.”

The proposed policy change needs one more vote by district officials before it’s finalized. 

Some parents like Shani Murray are also raising similar concerns as Buck.

“If you support parents rights, then support my right to have trained professionals select my students curriculum, I can opt out. Don’t give yourself the authority to opt out on my behalf,” she told school board members during Tuesday’s public comment.

Both Buck and Anderson also expressed concern that the move would strip community members’ voice on what books get added to the curriculum.

“You’re taking out any valuable information from parents, from educators, from students that would be part of that process,” Buck said. “We’re overstepping our board authority.”

It seems one book that has already been taught would not have received approval from one trustee.

Blades said she wouldn’t have allowed Internment to be piloted in the district. The fictional book is about Muslim Americans being sent to internment camps.

“I read it and I know other people were reading it and I wouldn’t want one of my kids to read it and it’s been in the classroom,” she said.

The book is already part of the language arts curriculum, Study Sync, for high schoolers and was approved through the current literature review process. The district is considering adding it to their core reading list for 11th graders.

Iranian Revolution Book Gets Approved

Despite the concerns raised by Blades about an Iranian revolution book last month, trustees ended up unanimously approving the book Tuesday night to be added to their core and extended reading list for highschoolers.

The book “Persepolis:The Story of Childhood” depicts author Marjane Satrapi’s life growing up in Tehran in the late 1970s amid the revolution and the overthrow of the Shah which would lead to the country becoming an Islamic republic.

Their decision came after district staff presented mostly positive feedback from community members and students who read the book.

Anderson said she had hesitations at first about reading a graphic novel, but enjoyed it in the end.

“I absolutely love this book, and I would have never picked it up,” Anderson said. “Thank you for opening my eyes.”

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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