Tag Archives: Buncombe County

Regarding Parental Rights and ‘The Kite Runner’

Regarding parental rights and ‘The Kite Runner’

Buncombe’s School Board Policy 3210 allows parents to question supplemental materials used in the classroom. And that’s exactly what I did when my child told me he would be reading “The Kite Runner” in a 10th grade Honors English class instead of the time-honored classic, “All Quiet on the Western Front.” “The Kite Runner” is a dark and disturbing adult fiction novel set in war-torn Afghanistan and has been frequently challenged by concerned parents for its sexually explicit content. The American Library Association reported that it’s one of the most frequently challenged books of the 21st century.

Interestingly, when the teacher and administrators met with me, no lesson plans were presented nor were any verbal explanations given on exactly how the book in question, “The Kite Runner,” would be used in the classroom. The low reading level (6th grade), mature adult themes (graphic homosexual rapes of children, extreme cruelty and violence, murder, profanity demeaning to women, and a suicide attempt) didn’t matter to the teacher, only that the book was about Afghanistan. The teacher didn’t disclose to parents at the curriculum fair or the spring open house that this book would be taught during the semester. When I asked her how she was incorporating the Common Core standards into the English Language Arts curriculum, she still didn’t tell me that she planned to teach this Common Core novel in place of the classic my other three children had studied in 10th grade Honors English class.

At last week’s meeting, I expressed concerns that the book description on the “opt-out” form didn’t fully disclose the adult themes nor did it ask parents to sign an “opt-in” form/permission slip. The issue here is “full disclosure” and the opportunity for parents to “opt-in” in regard to this and any book’s content. An “opt-out” form without specific disclosure does not empower parents. Such a procedure speaks to the negligence of this system. When dealing with explicit sexual content, not only do the parents of minors have the right to know, but the school system has the legal responsibility to inform. The system failed in this responsibility from both a legal and ethical perspective.

It is well-known that “opt-out” forms remain in students’ backpacks or never make it home. Last year a parent publicized this problem during the school board’s public comment period. He had not received the “opt-out” form for his child’s sex education class and requested that “opt-in” forms be sent home when sensitive topics are to be taught in school.

The teacher did not fully disclose the deeply disturbing elements of the story to parents: the detailed, graphic description of sodomy: an older boy raping a younger boy, the rape of a child by a man, a suicide attempt related to the rape. The child rape is the central theme of the book, not just an isolated incident. How can students, “if they wish,” do as the teacher suggested, skip “a key scene, critical to the plot?”

The rape scenes might trigger emotional, traumatic or painful memories and disturbing mental images for some of the students. Even colleges have “trigger warnings” at the top of the syllabus to alert students to disturbing content; at least one college provided a “safe space” for students when a controversial topic became overwhelming for them. Is the teacher qualified to handle potential psychological issues?

Everyone needs to understand that sexual abuse as a child carries over into adulthood and parenthood and impacts any children in that situation. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, one in five girls and one in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. Over the course of their lifetime, 28 percent of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized.

Nonetheless, I tried to offer a compromise but the principal rejected it. I suggested that the class continue to read the classic, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” comparing and contrasting the World War I soldiers’ experience with that of modern warriors in Afghanistan/Iraq, using appropriate excerpts from “The Kite Runner” and other books.

Instead, the principal suspended the book from classroom instruction until further review by the school’s Media Technology Advisory Committee. (No books were banned or censored.) The MTAC held a committee meeting but the school board attorney indicated that I could not attend; “the MTAC is not a public body under Article 33C of Chapter 143 of the General Statutes.”

The MTAC made the decision to keep the book on the approved list. I have 10 days to appeal the decision of a closed door meeting.

The question is, should parents have a right to see what their child is reading? If teachers want to teach controversial books, they need to do due diligence. Give parents the reading list options at the beginning of the year. This gives parents ample time before the school year starts to inspect the books and discuss options with the teacher.

Lisa Baldwin is a former Buncombe County School Board member, economist and persistent government watchdog. Prior to working with USDA, she interned with the N.C. Attorney General’s Office and the UNC School of Government.


Saying YES to STEM Education but NO to LOCATION of Asheville STEM High School

  1. The $5.5 million Buncombe County STEM High School site is a former Square D plant and is considered part of the 128 Bingham Road hazardous waste site, as designated by NC DENR. For more information: http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/wm/sf/ihshome/squared

  2. Monitoring wells less than 1,000 feet from the Central Office/proposed STEM HS contain high levels of the volatile organic compounds, TCE and PCE. In recent years it has been found that contaminant plumes in the upper aquifer are most likely to contribute to vapor intrusion in buildings. Since the central office is not on well water, vapor intrusion is the concern. The Center for Public Environmental Oversight published a report on the Buncombe Central Office site in January 2013: http://www.cpeo.org/pubs/BuncombeSchools.pdf

  3. Two vapor intrusion tests at the Central Office conducted recently, show little to no PCE and TCE vapor intrusion at this time (Mountain Environmental Report Feb 2013) however, ; this is a long-term problem.  The planned four years of monitoring is not enough.

  4. Both monitoring and mitigation are expensive and we have other options for the STEM high school location besides the central office.  A local college such as UNCA (e.g., Wake County STEM HS at NCSU), school within a school (e.g., Asheville HS SILSA program), or an existing school that is only at 1/2 capacity (Woodfin Elementary) are all viable options. As you may know, Buncombe school enrollment has been in decline for five years.  The 2011-12 capacity report put BCS at approximately 6,000 empty seats.  For comparison, Cabarrus County Schools (same size as Buncombe) has only 500 empty seats. Most districts regularly re-draw attendance lines or offer parental choice/magnet schools to balance schools.

  5. Breathing the carcinogensTCE or PCE is harmful and has most recently been linked to heart defects in the unborn. Women of childbearing age (15-44) should not be put at risk of exposure. The EPA reports:  TCE is carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure and poses a potential human health hazard for noncancer toxicity to the central nervous system, kidney, liver, immune system, male reproductive system, and the developing fetus. Some of you have dealt with the south Asheville CTS plant over the past few years and understand how we continue to learn more about the risks of exposure to contamination.

  6. The liability risk should be considered – just 1-2 real or perceived injuries resulting in litigation over the next ten years could be financially devastating.

  7. NC DPI School Planning Section Chief, Steve Taynton. has said the Central Office was poorly constructed; there are different construction standards for manufacturing facilities than schools. In addition, he said the building (no windows) is not a conducive environment for a school.  Mr. Taynton’s office will review the plans for the STEM school but can only offer recommendations. The state cannot mandate that another location be found.

  8. Legislation is coming down the pike, being drafted by Rep. Ramsey’s office, to prevent schools from being built on sites like this, within 1,000 feet of detected contamination but may not be in effect in time:  http://www.serconline.org/toxicschoolsites/fact.html

WHAT CAN YOU DO? – Ask your School Board members to revisit their decision to put the STEM High School on the edge of a hazardous waste site and investigate better options. This will free up $5 million in lottery funds for teaching or digital learning per proposed NC legislation. With this lottery money, Buncombe could buy laptops (e.g., Google Chromebooks) for all middle and high school students so they could learn at their own pace with teachers as facilitators. Mooresville, NC Graded School District has achieved outstanding academic results from using the laptop model.