‘Prep,’ ‘Acid Test’ Could Still get the axe in East Penn

East Penn Board of School Directors will delay a decision on removing the books 'Prep' and 'The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test' from the Emmaus High School Suggested Summer Reading List until the works are properly evaluated.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include a paragraph on East Penn School Board President Charles Ballard's reasons for dismissing the motion before the school board last night. The original version did not provide that information.

This will not be the last the East Penn Board of School Directors hears of controversial Emmaus High School suggested summer reading selections “Prep” and “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”

The board was expected to vote last night on a motion to eliminate Tom Wolfe’s “Acid Test,” which is on the 10th grade summer reading list, and “Prep,” a 9th-grade selection written by Curtis Sittenfeld, as summer reading options. However, Board President Charles Ballard dismissed the motion for procedural reasons without giving the board a chance to discuss it.

The two books became the topic of conversation in East Penn after the board’s Sept. 10 meeting, when two parents came before the board to complain about the “pornographic” nature of the works. At that meeting, School Director Julian Stolz made a motion that the board remove the books from the suggested summer reading list.

In a nutshell, Ballard said that the board has an official policy for addressing curriculum challenges, known as Policy 109, and the board needed to follow that procedure in evaluating the summer reading books. Since Stolz’s motion did not originate with a Policy 109 challenge, Ballard said, he was dismissing that motion as “improper” and “null and void.”

The main thrust of a lenghty statement by Ballard is that his reason for dismissing the motion stems from a desire to protect East Penn from potential legal action for violating its own procedure. He cited a past Supreme Court ruling in a case in which a school board removed a book from the summer reading list in his explanation. In that case, the Supreme Court set up a three-pronged test for boards to use in pulling a book.

But last night will not be the last time the board will be faced with a decision on the two summer reading books, Ballard said. Just before Monday night’s board meeting, the school district received a written challenge to both "Prep" and "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," in accordance with Policy 109, which will spark an official committee review of the works and a recommendation to the board.

Once the board has that committee recommendation in hand, it can then make a ruling on the challenge, Ballard explained.

careless fills September 25, 2012 at 10:39 AM
Typical, very autocratic reponse by Mr. Ballard to rule the motion improper and null and void. Would be much better for him to ask for a motion to table the motion until the committee does it's work, Then everyone could agree with that and have a unifying 9-0 vote, and everyone should walk away happy for now. A procedure like this would establish that there is a recognized process for selecting and culling matrials used in the school, which is important for several reasons. Most important, it establishes that if this book is eliminated after reconsideration, it's not a book banning - rather it's a selection of what should or should not be in the assignment. Second, it reaffirms the 109 policy and lets that procedure to go forward. Finally, it establishes that the school board can still over-rule the committee if commuinity standards suggest that committee's reccomendation doesn't reflect them. An opportunity wasted by Mr. Ballard - he didn't need to bully his way through this one.
optimist September 25, 2012 at 11:33 AM
Procedure 109 is what should have been used to start with. This should not have been brought before the board. Follow the process. This was a well coordinated political smear campaign. Suprised you guys did this 1 week short of national banned book week. Kind of backfired a little huh? According to the results of this poll people do not agree at all: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/eastpenn/
Jennifer Marangos (Editor) September 25, 2012 at 12:14 PM
Please note: This story has been updated to include a paragraph on the main reason cited by East Penn School Board President Charles Ballard in dismissing the motion before the school board last night. The original version did not provide that information.
careless fills September 25, 2012 at 12:50 PM
A parent should not be expected to know all of these processes. The motion at the school board meeting was made a seconded. Ballard could have politley asked it to be withdrawn or tabled.
careless fills September 25, 2012 at 01:00 PM
Thanks for the added info. Better parlimentary procedure still should have been used to politely table or remove the motion. The chair of the meeting missed a chance to unify the board and community.
optimist September 25, 2012 at 01:47 PM
Really, how about callng the Suprintendent or sending an e-mail? They sure had a good idea of what procedures to follow to address the board. Wonder how they figured that out.
careless fills September 25, 2012 at 02:23 PM
again, everyone doesn't know everything - they could have easily been misdirected if they spoke to the wrong person. as far as speaking to the school board, the rules are quite evident when you walk in the back of the room and see them written on the individual sign-up sheets - all you need to do is to show up and be literate
Robert Sentner September 25, 2012 at 04:10 PM
CF that doesn't shock you does it ????
Chuck Ballard September 26, 2012 at 07:41 AM
1. The motion was improper. It violated the policy in existence, the rules of the Board. The proper way to challenge the material would have been to file the form as required by procedure. 2. Supreme Court decisions require that the Board procedures to review 'controversial material' be 'facially unbiased'. You can't have a motion hanging out there to remove the material and say you are conducting a 'facially unbiased' review. 3. If someone wanted the community to remain united, they would not have had the challenge to the material made via a public meeting. 4. It is not and never will be bullying to require people to follow the rules, particularly someone who has run for public office. Being called to account for your actions is part of holding public office. Calling such action bullying is just trying to hide behind a false front, hardly the action you would expect from people continuously calling for 'transparency' from everyone else.
careless fills September 26, 2012 at 01:46 PM
A better solution would be to have the solicitor to make this explanation to the board, and to ask the mover(s) of the motion to withdraw it or to table it. With regards to #3, you can't expect parents to be so politically sophisticated. They had a problem and were looking for a solution.
Abel Anderson September 26, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Some parents have expressed an interest in being more informed about the type of content in the books. However, they may not have time to read all the selections on the Summer Reading list. The parents will always be the final word on what their children are allowed to read. This is America, after all. So, if nothing else, we might ask if there is a way to help parents become more informed about the books without having to read all the books. The book synopsis provides a minimal metric for evaluation. Book Ratings don't exist due to censorship issues, however some websites, like CommonSenseMedia.org, do provide book ratings and age-appropriate guidelines. Unfortunately, that site does not have ratings for Prep or EKAAT. There is nothing stopping us from creating our own community-based Book Review and Rating system. That way hard-working parents who may not have time to pre-read every book can, at minimum, reference a website that employs a basic, if imperfect, rating system, that is maintained by their friends, neighbors, teachers and students. This site provides a basic model for a rating system: http://novelbookratings.com/ratingReviewSystem.php I may not always agree with my neighbors and their opinions, but I do respect them and I'm always interested to hear what they have to say.
careless fills September 28, 2012 at 01:31 AM
Many invovled parents, including myself, might not necessarily be versed in all of the details of every assignment that their kids are working on. I know for sure that in high school, my parents hardly had a clue of exactly what I was working on at a given time, since they could trust that I was working on what I was supposed to be, based on the results, and for at least half, they couldn't help anyway, even though both were educators themselves. SImilarily, I could trust my kids to be doing the right thing, and we usually talked about other things. Many parents like me (and mine) would never dream that we would have to vet a school assignment for appropriateness, but that seems to be the case here.
optimist September 28, 2012 at 02:20 AM
It's a summer reading assignment. It's the only academic thing going on at that time. A parent really ought to be able to get involved in that if they wish. Give parents a little more credit. Remember it's all about choice right?


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