February 28, 2014

By 3-2 vote, Watauga board keeps controversial book

About 200 people jammed the Watauga County Courthouse to see the proceedings, which had been moved from the Education Center to the courthouse at the request of law enforcement officials.

A divided Watauga school board decided Thursday night to keep a controversial novel in the curriculum for the 10th-grade Honors English class.

By a 3-2 vote, the school board rejected a request from some parents to remove “The House of the Spirits,” by Chilean author Isabel Allende, from the advanced-level sophomore class.

About 200 people jammed the Watauga County Courthouse to see the proceedings. The meeting had been moved to the courthouse from the Education Center at the request of law enforcement. Earlier this week, 11 Watauga High teachers received letters that at least some of the teachers said were threatening.

Parent Chastity Lesesne asked the school board last fall to remove the book from the curriculum. She said it contained passages depicting sexual activity and violence, including rape and executions.

Teachers said most students supported the novel, which tells the story of four generations of a family during times of social upheaval. Watauga High gave students the option of reading “Moby Dick” instead, but those sophomores would do so outside the classroom setting.

There were only two speakers during Thursday night’s meeting – Lesesne and Mary Kent Whitaker, who teaches the Honors English class in 10th grade.

Lesesne said she and other parents weren’t trying to ban the book and weren’t asking for it to be removed from the school library. Rather, she and others wanted the book taken out of the curriculum.

Whitaker, who this week was named Teacher of the Year from Watauga High, said students have an option of what to read. And she said 93 percent of her students in recent years have chosen “The House of the Spirits.”

The school board’s chair and vice chair, Lee Warren and Delora Hodges, voted to remove the book.

Voting to keep the book in the curriculum were board members Ron Henries, Barbara Kinsey and Brenda Reese.

The American Civil Liberties Union had become involved in the case in recent days, supporting those who wanted to keep the book.

Afterwards, Chris Brock, legal director for the ACLU’s North Carolina Legal Foundation, said the organization was pleased. “We applaud the Watauga County Board of Education for doing the right thing and supporting the freedom to read,” Brock said.

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