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In Aftermath of Book Challenge, WHS Curriculum Committee Discusses Alternate Assignments Across Board

By Jesse Wood

June 9, 2014. Following the book challenge at Watauga High School, the WHS Curriculum Committee discussed alternate assignments across the board at a past Watauga High School Curriculum committee meeting on March 11.

The minutes from that meeting were recently published in an insert in the packet for the Watauga County Board of Education’s meeting on Monday, June 9.

The March 11 meeting took place two weeks after the school board voted to keep “The House of the Spirits” in the WHS curriculum.

Presenting this matter before the WHS Curriculum Committee were WHS English Department Chair Kelly Stollings and WHS English teachers Sheri King and Mary Kent Whitaker. As the teacher teaching “The House of the Spirits” in 10th grade honors English, Whitaker was a central figure in the book challenge. She is also the current WCS Teacher of the Year.

After updating the WHS Curriculum Committee on the outcome of the book challenge, Stollings mentioned that while the primary controversy was settled in late February, “issues related to alternate assignments remain a concern that could eventually have school-wide implications, as parents who object to curricular content in other disciplines may insist upon differentiation similar to that offered by the English department,” according to the meeting’s minutes.

Stollings said she was presenting before the committee to raise awareness across other departments and noted that faculty might consider what a school-wide policy on alternate assignments “would look like.”

Later in the meeting someone asked if a policy regarding alternate assignments would eventually be drafted, and Committee Member Meredith Jones mentioned that interim Watauga County Schools Supt. David Fonseca asked her to “clarify that the individual departments and principal would be making final decisions about alternates in all disciplines.

Jocelyn Hunter, a parent representative on the WHS Curriculum Committee, then asked if parents could become more involved in the process to select alternates.

“Board Member Barbara Kinsey answered that the board will not authorize a parent committee to make decisions about book choices and voiced board opposition to allowing parental control of curriculum. Ms. Hunter replied that parents do not want to control curriculum, but some would like a way to have greater input. Ms. Stollings suggested that parents might read the book along with their child so it can be discussed at home. She said parents are encouraged to talk to their child’s teacher about lessons and content. Ms. Hunter asked if parents could be more actively involved. For example, could lessons be videotaped or could parents attend class with their child,” the meeting minutes state.

Stollings, King and Whitaker objected to parental presence in the classroom.

“They cited several reasons why allowing parents to sit in on classes would be problematic. If the numbers became large, there would be space concerns. Parent presence could be distracting and students might not engage in class discussion in the same manner if parents were present. Further, it could alter the atmosphere of the classroom, possibly introducing a “policing” undertone. Ms. King said that, in light of recent threats, such oversight could feel hostile,” according to meeting minutes.

Whitaker then mentioned that she has a fusion page online devoted to providing information about the controversial book and lesson plans to parents.

Earlier in the meeting, Whitaker said the English department is currently seeking better alternate novels for students who don’t want to read “The House of the Spirits.” The alternate during the 2013-14 school year was “Moby Dick.” While mentioning the room for improvement, Whitaker urged the committee that “this should be a deliberate and careful process and we should not be took quick to adopt a one-size-fits-all plan for choosing or teaching alternates either in the English departments or across departments.”

The presentation was for information and discussion only. The committee didn’t take any action.

The purpose of the WHS Curriculum Committee is to review current curriculum matters and related policies and make recommendations to the Watauga County Board of Education.

Members of the curriculum include one representative from each department in the high school, a representative from the Watauga County Board of Education, a parent representative and other Watauga County Schools administrators.

For more on the book challenge: