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‘Nineteen Minutes’ to remain in KHS library

11/12/2014 10:27AM ● Published by J. Chambless

By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

The school board of the Kennett Consolidated School District upheld a decision by a special Resource Material Review Committee and voted 7-1 in favor of keeping Jodi Picoult’s 2007 novel "Nineteen Minutes" in the high school library.

The parent of a Kennett High School student had sought to have the book removed from the library because, in her opinion, it is not suitable for high school students. The book is about a school shooting and focuses on the events leading up to and following the incident. It contains graphic descriptions of sex acts as well as potentially offensive language.

The school district, in accordance with its policy on such matters, attempted to resolve the parent’s concerns informally. But the concerned parent filed a request for reconsideration of resource materials, which resulted in an appeal to the district’s Resource Material Review Committee. The committee voted unanimously to recommend that the book remain in the library’s collection. The parent then opted to file a final appeal to the nine-member school board.

At Monday night’s school board meeting, approximately 50 people, many of them wearing "I Read Banned Books" buttons, turned out to voice their support for keeping the book in the library.

Jean O’Neil, a former teacher in the district, said that while she understood why parents would want to protect their children from material that they deemed offensive, removing a book from the library’s shelves could set an unfortunate precedent.

Virginia McGarvey, a library media specialist at the Kennett Middle School, said that the library staff is trained to make decisions about the appropriateness of reading materials, and in her opinion the book is suitable for high school students.

Alexandra Buley, a junior at Kennett High School, said that "Nineteen Minutes" addresses topics like bullying and the factors that can lead to school violence, and she felt that it was beneficial for students to read about these subjects.

"‘Nineteen Minutes’ was definitely a book that made me think," she said, adding that she loves the library because it’s a place of freedom.

"I’m opposed to banning books. I value my freedom to read," she said.

"‘Nineteen Minutes’ reflects events that take place in today’s society," commented Victoria Eppes, a junior at the high school. "Sheltering us from ideas doesn’t prepare us for the world we live in. In this case, school-wide censorship is unnecessary."

While the review process took place, most members of the school board read the book so that they would have a better understanding of the material that was being objected to.

Board member Janis Reynolds said that while the novel focuses on a horrific incident, "I don’t feel this book is above the maturity level of our high school students."

Several board members talked about how it’s up to parents to decide what is appropriate for their sons and daughters, and not the local school board.

School board member Dominic Perigo said, "While this book may not be for every student to read, that’s not for me to decide. That’s not for this board to decide."

Michael Finnegan agreed with his colleague, saying that it’s up to the school district to teach students critical-thinking skills. It is then up to parents and students to decide what music they listen to, what movies they watch, or what books they read.

School board member Rudy Alfonso, a military veteran, noted that throughout this country’s history soldiers have fought and died defending freedoms. He was not in favor of removing the book from the library.

Board member Doug Stirling acknowledged that topics like bullying and rape are important, but for him it came down to a question of age-appropriateness. Were the graphic details about the rape and the foul language throughout the book appropriate for fourteen-to-eighteen-year-olds?

"In my mind," Stirling said, "everybody has a line. Every person in this room has a different line [of what’s appropriate]." Stirling added that, after reading the novel, he felt that the issues of school violence and bullying could have been addressed just as well without the graphic descriptions and foul language. Ultimately, he said, the library could have better resource materials to address the serious topics raised in the book, so he opted to vote against keeping "Nineteen Minutes" in the library. However, the 7-1 decision affirmed the decision of the Resource Material Review Committee, and many of the people in the audience cheered the board's decision.

To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email editor@chestercounty.com.


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