New opt-out policy will limit students’ reading

 

By Kay Lim, Caelyn Pender and Albert Zhang (WHS), Lindsay Filgas and Caitlin Henderson (NPHS), and Gavin Norton (TOHS)

Students and faculty rallied at the Nov. 7 CVUSD school board meeting to protest the new proposed opt-out program. The two sides clashed, sparking heated heckling and controversy.

With the recent debate over CVUSD’s opt-out policy, the editor teams of the WHS Arrow, NPHS Prowler and TOHS Lancer have come together and co-written an editorial, reflecting the newspaper staffs’ positions on the topic. 

Over the past several weeks, the CVUSD board has been embroiled in a controversy over a new policy for approving Core Literature. Not only does this policy outline a new selection process for approving Core Literature novels, but it also creates an opt-in policy requiring parents to essentially sign a permission slip for their children to read books in class.

The controversy over books began in the summer when the board voted to approve the book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” for ninth grade curriculum. Bringing this novel to attention rallied community members on both sides in a fervor that translated into the debate over the opt-out policy. Because the book contains mature content, it prompted board president Mike Dunn to create a committee of teachers, community members and board members to draft an opt-out policy for parents. After weeks of work by the committee, board clerk Sandee Everett disregarded the carefully-drafted policy to adopt her own, according to a KCLU radio piece.

Rather than being an opt-out for concerned parents, Everett’s policy reads like an opt-in. It requires parents to sign a form approving their children reading material that is considered to contain “mature content” by the California Department of Education.

Several students from NPHS, WHS and TOHS attempted to speak about their objections to the policy during the board meeting on Nov. 7. These students were met with yelling from people in the crowd, many of whom do not have children in the district or do not live in the district. These are the people who say they have the best interests of the students at heart, yet their disrespect for student opinion is appalling.

Due to backlash at the Nov. 7 board meeting, Everett had an emergency meeting with the original committee on Nov. 13, agreeing to make amendments to her policy. However, the updated policy was not released before the board deliberated and passed it in a 3-1 vote the following day; board member Pat Phelps was absent. Although Everett plans to fix the problematic wording of the policy, as pointed out line-by-line by board member Betsy Connolly during the meeting, this hasty vote and lack of transparency from the board is concerning in itself. As of now, the final policy has yet to be released.

According to the California School Board Association, the job of the school board is “to ensure that school districts are responsive to the values, beliefs and priorities of their communities.” However, by neglecting to release the changes before the final vote, the board broke its compact with the community. The board was unable to hear feedback from the community regarding the changes, and thus cannot possibly be representing its views.

Everett’s current opt-out policy could inhibit teachers from teaching essential learning material, and thus limits a student’s ability to process difficult subject matter. As students, we trust our teachers, who have an education in choosing meaningful curriculum, to choose what books we read in class. We respect a parent or student’s choice to opt-out of an assignment; however, burying materials and making them unteachable for the rest of the students is not an appropriate solution.

As students, we are the community members that this policy directly impacts. When we transition from children into adults, we should be able to comprehend difficult and uncomfortable literature. Because the district already allows concerned parents to opt their children out, the new policy, instead of encouraging positive parent involvement as intended, simply creates extra concern for both parents and students. Many busy parents will see the label of “mature content” and simply opt their children out of Core Literature without further research, unknowingly limiting the quality of their children’s education. If the school board had the students’ best interests in mind, it would not take away their role in deciding their own education.

The purpose of literature is to expose students to mature content that reflects reality.  Books are reflections of an author’s interpretation of real-life problems, and no one has the ability to opt-out of life.

Our classes teach us to be informed, critical thinkers. It is best if students learn about difficult topics in a classroom setting where they can have mature discussions and ask important questions rather than learning about them in an uncomfortable manner, such as on the Internet or through first-person experience.The books that we read do not promote controversial acts, but rather teach us their repercussions. If we allow the school district to limit our in-classroom conversations, we limit our ability to respond to the uncomfortable situations we will inevitably face in the real world.

As students, it is our responsibility to voice our concerns in order to defend the quality of our education. Let’s look in the mirror and realize that life has mature content, and it doesn’t have a warning label with an opt-out option.

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