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Guidelines in offing for how CdA teachers should choose books

Districtwide guidelines for how books are selected for class assignments in Coeur d’Alene schools will be drafted in the next couple of months in response to an outcry over what some say are inappropriate reading materials for students.

“We’re trying to listen to all sides and come up with something that probably nobody is going to be completely happy with, which is the nature of a compromise,” said Jim Facciano, curriculum director for the Coeur d’Alene School District.

The school board will vote at its next meeting on whether to restrict student access to two of five book titles – “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou and “Fallen Angels” by Walter Dean Myers – that parent Mary Jo Finney filed complaints about in the spring.

The three others – “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier, “Snow Falling on Cedars” by David Guterson and “Beloved” by Toni Morrison – are still under committee review. The committee has recommended no restrictions on the first two titles.

Though district officials said repeatedly over the past few months that none of the five titles is required reading in any class, “in fact, quite often, the teachers are assigning a title from that list to the entire class,” Assistant Superintendent Hazel Bauman told the school board Monday.

Realizing that underscored the need for better communication throughout the district about the book selection and assignment process, Bauman said.

Parents and other community members packed past board meetings to raise concerns over class books and share experiences their children have had with required material being inappropriate.

High school English teachers have been meeting with Facciano to answer questions raised at the board meetings and talk about possible guidelines for selecting assigned books. The district hopes to come up with guidelines for how books are selected and how the opt-out policy is explained to students, as well as rules for reading books aloud in class by students or teachers.

Facciano said one of the committee’s goals is to increase trust between teachers and the rest of the community.

“We keep hearing all this testimony, and I think that’s put a large dent in the trustworthiness of the whole group that is unfounded,” he said. “They’re feeling like ‘We’re professionals. We know what our students need and we know the sensitive areas that our curriculum sometimes takes us.’ “

Board member Vern Newby said the guidelines are being drafted to address the small percentage of teachers who aren’t using sensible guidelines when selecting material.

“Rules are written for people who don’t know how to make their own,” Newby said. “What we’re trying to do is formulate rules for a few who, unfortunately, don’t know how to write their own.”