From classroom trends to school board decisions, Class Act will keep you updated on all the school issues followed by the Star Tribune’s education reporters. Contributors include Alejandra Matos, who covers Minneapolis; Kim McGuire, who covers the west metro; Erin Adler, who covers the south metro; Anthony Lonetree and Libor Jany, who cover St. Paul and the east metro, and Shannon Prather, who cover the north metro.

Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan votes to retain challenged book

Posted by: Erin Adler Updated: May 16, 2014 - 5:42 PM

On Wednesday, a committee of parents, teachers and other district representatives voted 10-0 to keep "Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You" by Barthe DeClements in libraries across the district.

The book had recently been challenged by a parent for its use of the word "retarded" to reference the main character, Helen, a student who has a learning disability.

The parent, Jenna Boutain, has a child in the district and also teaches special education at Falcon Ridge Middle School. She chose not to testify at this week's meeting, but wrote, "The word 'retarded' does not support our district's beliefs of preparing students to be contributing members of a diverse society and providing students with a safe, respectful and positive learning environment."

Use of "the r word" has become a national issue, with a campaign sponsored by the Special Olympics urging people to stop saying it. Nearly half a million people have pledged to do so, according to www.r-word.org.

Lauri Torseth, the media specialist on the committee, testified in favor of keeping the book. She shared her belief that the book has value because kids with learning issues can relate to the main character and her struggles.

"The development of negative slang by youth is constant," she said. "The issue here is less about the choice of the word the author uses than the stigma of the word toward people with developmental disabilities."

The National Coalition Against Censorship's "Kids' Right to Read Project" also wrote a letter urging the district to retain the book.

The letter said that an individual who has concerns about a book doesn't have the right "to impose those views on others or to demand that the library shelves reflect their personal preferences." It also said that "removing the book would raise constitutional concerns."

Convening a committee to consider removing a book is uncommon and hasn't happened in the district since 2010, said Tony Taschner, district spokesman.

"I've been here since 1996, and there have been five books that have gone through the reconsideration process in that time," said Taschner.

A committee voted to keep all but one of those titles, district records show.

Boutain could appeal the committee's decision if she chooses, Taschner said.

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