Administrators at Henry Sibley High School have halted the teaching of two novellas after receiving complaints about their content.

Principal Ron Monson sent out a letter this month to parents, explaining that teachers would pause lessons on John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" and Larry Watson's "Montana 1948."

The decision came after some parents and staffers at the Mendota Heights school raised concern about the "racist stereotypes and slurs" used in the Steinbeck book, and members of the American Indian community took issue with the content of "Montana 1948," Monson wrote.

The West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan school district isn't banning or discouraging the teaching of Steinbeck's 1937 novella, according to the letter that went to parents of ninth-graders taking the language arts course that included the book.

Rather, according to Monson's letter, the goal of suspending the lessons was to "determine how the content of this novel was addressed during the curriculum so we could respond to the concerns in a meaningful and informed manner."

"Of Mice and Men," a book about itinerant migrant workers that's typically considered an American classic, is often challenged and has been banned at numerous schools that cite its profanity and racial slurs, according to the American Library Association.

The other letter, sent to the families of 10th-graders taking an American literature course, explained that teachers would stop teaching "Montana 1948" until the district's American Indian cultural liaison could provide more background to students.

Watson's novella about a family in a small Montana town includes the sexual assault and murder of a Native American woman. Since its publication in 1993, it also has been at the center of many school districts' discussions about curriculum and censorship.

"Throughout this process, one thing has been made very clear," Monson wrote. "The school district needs a policy that guides the reconsideration of instructional materials."

The district administration plans to prepare a draft policy to present to the school board, according to the letter.

Sibley High itself has recently been the subject of a conversation about racism and violence against Native Americans. The school board earlier this month voted unanimously to drop Henry Sibley's name from the school because of his role in the U.S.-Dakota War and the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

Sibley, whose Mendota home is a state historical site, was tapped to command troops in the war and established the military commission that in 1862 sentenced 303 Dakota men to death. Thirty-eight of them were hanged in Mankato.

The school board will determine the process for choosing a new name and potentially replacing the school's logo and Warriors mascot.

Mara Klecker • 612-673-4440