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Highland Park ISD Adopts New Rules For Books

Parody of the cover to the book "The Working Poor" that Highland Park students created after some parents argued that it was inappropriate for use in the classroom.

The Highland Park ISD has adopted a new policy for letting people weigh in on the books that high schoolers read in English class: No more pulling books out of classrooms when a parent objects to the content.

  Highland Park administrators learned a thing or two last fall.

“We’ve tried to ensure that if there is a challenge process to a material, that that process is fair and reasonable and provides for balanced perspectives,” said school superintendent Dawson Orr.

He suspended, and then unsuspended, seven books last September after parents objected to sexual content, profanity or violence.

On Tuesday night, Orr and the school board unanimously adopted a new policythat requires teachers to publish a list of the books they want to read in their classes each spring, and gives parents three weeks to object. Books that raise eyebrows will be reviewed by a committee of parents, students, and staff. But books that are approved can’t be challenged again for three years.

“The board and administration have reviewed a great deal of input and feedback beginning in September. I’m pleased that we were able to arrive a policy, take action, and move forward,” Orr said.

Orr has been flooded with letters, his school board meetings have been packed with impassioned parents, and the district has gotten national attention.

“I can’t say we got everything we ever wanted out of these policy changes, but I do believe that they made a grand effort to compromise and find a solution that’s in the best interest of the district,” said Natalie Davis, a parent of a high schooler.

Davis joined other parents and organized a group called “Highland Park Kids Read” to stop the meddling in her daughter’s English class.

“Ultimately, it’s all going to be in how it’s implemented,” she said.

Another Highland Park parent, Tavia Hunt, said at the meeting on Tuesday that she’d lost faith in the school’s leaders. She was on a review committee for book The Art of Racing in the Rain last fall, and dissented with the committee’s opinion that it was appropriate for a high school English class. Hunt had repeatedly asked for community standards to be considered in choosing literature. She said that she’d pulled her daughter out of Highland Park High School.

The National Coalition Against Censorship sent three letters to the school board, asking them to keep community standards out of their policy.

“This particular controversy makes it as clear as it could possibly be that there is no one community standard,” director Joan Bertin said.  

The new policy prohibits any book with excessive sexuality, profanity or violence, but also requires that administrators evaluate books holistically, without taking the spicy passages out of context.