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Parents question reading selections

March 23, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

karenh@herald-mail.com

Debbie Rauer, the mother of sixth-grade twins, believes garbage in equals garbage out.

That's why, she said, she was so appalled by some of her children's recent reading assignments.

Quoting texts that contain foul language and what she called "sexual innuendo," Rauer told Washington County Board of Education members she believes a book used in upper-level sixth-grade classes is inappropriate.

"How can you have a classroom of children reading a paragraph aloud with those words in them?" Rauer asked after she read from school policies forbidding students from using or displaying vulgar language.

About 30 community members attending a meet-the-board night Tuesday at Clear Spring High School sat in on a discussion about the book. Rauer and other parents said they wanted to see the board get rid of the book used in their children's classrooms.

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Rauer read a poem called "About Sex and Baseball," and leafed through copies of Ray Bradbury's short story "The Veldt," in which two children kill their parents. Rauer said she could not see any positive message in the story and questioned why young children should be exposed to it.

According to Peggy Pugh, supervisor of secondary education-language arts, the book was adopted as part of a great books series for grades 6 through 12 before the current board was elected.

The series is used by thousands of school children throughout Maryland, Pugh said. Upper-level reading classes are considered capable of handling the subject matter.

She said parents are free to preview the material their children's classes cover, and they can request alternative texts be used if they find the subject matter objectionable.

The texts also may be re-reviewed, Pugh said.

Dean Pryor, pastor of Grace Brethren Church in Hagerstown, and several parents said they believed few people would support keeping the book, if they had knowledge about the words and situations presented in its stories.

Pryor said he had a petition of more than 100 signatures of people who object to the book.

"We're very concerned, very, very concerned about the curriculum of these books being allowed in the public school system," Pryor said.

Board vice president Jacqueline Fischer told parents she would have to read the entire text to judge whether it has merit.

A former teacher, Fischer said she never encountered problems when she assigned Mark Twain's classic, "Huckleberry Finn." She said the book's use of a racial epithet, which often has inspired controversy, does not outweigh its literary value.

Board member Bernadette Wagner said the school system covers a "very, very broad spectrum," from parents who let their children play violent video games to those who wouldn't let their sixth graders watch PG-13 movies.

Rick Heines, youth pastor at New Life Christian Ministries in Clear Spring, said he wants notice of what his children will be reading, so he can determine whether they're ready and be certain they understand their family's values.

"I don't want special rights for my children. I don't want to put them in a bubble by putting them in a private school, but I do want to know what they're going to be exposed to before they're exposed to it," Heines said.

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