What began last year as concern over content in an English Language Arts class has repeated itself this school year and resulted in a Leavenworth High School parent removing her child as a full-time student.
Heather Hassell, formerly an ELA teacher in another state, recounts last year’s issue:
“The 9th grade ELA class at Leavenworth High School read one novel for the entire school year entitled Twisted. I had no idea they were even reading that book, until my child came home from school and told me they were uncomfortable with a book they had started reading in class. Being a formerly certified English teacher, I thought perhaps it had slipped the teachers mind to send home a notice of some kind informing parents of such content being studied in the ELA classroom. In every district I have ever worked for, and in every district we have been a part of across the country, parents are notified if media of any kind is going to be used and discussed in the classroom that may be triggering or controversial for students. There was never any communication about such books in the (LHS) classroom. We emailed the teacher, letting them know that our child was uncomfortable with the book, and since I know how busy teachers are, I asked what literary concepts or what ideas they were trying to teach and volunteered to select an alternate book that would meet this criteria. We would also be fine with the teacher selecting an alternate text, provided it did not have such sexually explicit and female sexual objectification in it. We did not hear anything back from the teacher…ever.”
Mrs. Hassell was eventually told of a form available online allowing parents to “opt-out” of offending material used as required reading, but found herself enmeshed in school bureaucracy:
“When I did finally get the form and took the laborious time to fill it out in its entirety, I dropped it off at the district office, yet somehow it managed to disappear. The form itself has nine questions that seem more of an inquisition and direct attack on family privacy than on a simple opt-out. The district wanted to know what I might feel will be the result of using this material, if I read the text in its entirety or not, and what I believe the theme of this material is? If a material is triggering for a child, I am certainly not going to share why. If it was so sexually explicit that my child didn’t feel comfortable reading it and my husband and I read just a few pages and felt sick, then I’m not going to read it in its entirety. Why would I have to subject anyone to that? Being an English teacher, I would have no problem answering what the theme of the book was, however, isn’t this supposed to be a form for parents? Why do parents need to tell the school what the theme is of the book they are objecting to?”
Her further concerns center on parents with similar objections, but without the same online access she has:
“The problem I have with the district’s form of transparency is that it is discriminatory. Can they guarantee that every household has adequate access to a computer or their online resources and forms? Can they guarantee that a household has the means to get themselves to a public library to access these forms, which took me over an hour to get to? And what about being up front and honest about what books are going to be studied for that year in the ELA classroom? It still is not clear online as they state these books might be used and they might not.”
The former educator says communication with parents she experienced while employed in other districts is sorely lacking in USD 453:
“And the classroom isn’t the only place there is a lack of transparency; the library is insane. At a public high school library, as a parent, I am not allowed to go into the library without first contacting the principal and then making an appointment. It is almost impossible to connect with the principal. Once you do make an appointment, the principal can deny it due to concerns for the “learning environment.” If that is the case, why am I not allowed to go in after school or before school? Again, I was told all the books in the library are online, and I can look online. This is discriminatory! Not everyone is able to just look online, nor does every parent or guardian have means to be able to access such.
“This is not the way forward. Schools need parents, and parents need schools.”
We reached out to Leavenworth High School Principal James Vanek for comment on Mrs. Hassell’s complaints. There was no response.
Mrs. Hassell’s child is now educated a half-day at Leavenworth High School and a half-day at home.