Kennett School Board votes against banning book

This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website and the Southern Chester County Weeklies‘ website.
Kennett High School student Vikki Epps speaks to the school board in favor keeping the book “Nineteen Minutes” in the school’s library. (Candice Monhollan)

Kennett High School student Vikki Epps speaks to the school board in favor keeping the book “Nineteen Minutes” in the school’s library. (Candice Monhollan)

NEW GARDEN — It’s a topic no parent wants to ever hear on the television or read in the paper, but the number school of shootings and active shooters has risen over the years from six in 2000 to 16 incidents in 2013, with 24 percent of those happening in educational environments, according to a recent report released by the FBI.

It has become a topic even written about in the book “Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult, author of other well-known works such as “My Sister’s Keeper” and “Salem Falls.”

The story, set in Sterling, New Hampshire, is about a 17-year-old boy who has been bullied for years by classmates, both physically and verbally. The student, at his breaking point, endures one more act of bullying which sends him over the edge and “leads him to commit an act of violence that forever changes the lives of Sterling’s residents,” according to the book’s official website.

… [Please continue the story on the Daily Local News website by clicking here.]

The book, published in 2007, can be found in the library of Kennett High School and became the hot topic of the school board meeting Nov. 10 after a parent, Angela John, requested the book be removed.

“The parent felt the book content was not suitable for high school students,” Superintendent Barry Tomasetti said during the meeting.

He went on to say the district followed Policy 109 and tried to resolve the issue informally, but the parent was not satisfied and completed a Request for Reconsideration of Resource Material Review Committee.

From there, the committee reviewed the book and its merits and voted unanimously that the book remain in the library.

The parent made a final appeal to the board and the matter was brought up at the Nov. 10 meeting.

Parents, students and even former educators flocked to the meeting to voice opinions regarding the possible banning of the book.

Jean O’Neil, a former educator at Kennett High for 17 years, felt removing the book would be more hurtful than helpful.

“While I respect and understand the person challenging ‘Nineteen Minutes’ desires to keep the children safe, removing access to books makes our children even more vulnerable,” she said to the board. “By banning any book, and in this case, a highly recommended book because one member of our community does not agree with its content, we are saying to our children that new ideas are scary or that we shouldn’t talk about anything unpleasant or controversial. That if you have a different lifestyle or religion, or if you come from a different place, you’re too frightening to think about. That’s not our Kennett community.”

Even two students from the high school stood up in defense of the book.

“I understand the challenger of this book means well and is coming from a good place,” said Alli Buley, 17, a junior at the high school. “It is important for students to be introduced to possibly controversial topics because truthfully, such things do happen in everyday society. … I feel it is important to be educated about tragedies, such as school shootings and to be aware of some of the factors that cause such events to happen. The saying goes, history repeats itself and the first step in preventing future tragedies is to be well-educated about them.”

Buley, who read the book, relayed that the book wasn’t about how to commit a school shooting, but was a “profound message about how a community grieves and came together as a result of this incident.”

She also relayed the book made her evaluate herself and how she treated others.

When it was time for the board to make a decision, they voted 7-1 in favor of keeping the book in the library.

Vice president Doug Stirling was the lone dissenter, feeling the book could have been written differently without changing the message behind it.

“I hate to use the word ban — rather use age appropriate — and I thought with the filthy language and the graphic depiction of the rape scene, that it was not appropriate for minors,” he said. “Seventy-five percent of our students are minors. That was the reason. It’s not in our elementary schools or middle school for that reason.

“Everybody has their own opinion. That’s how I felt and that’s the way I voted. The language was gratuitous. If you take every foul word out of that book, it won’t change the story one iota.”

Other members of the board, despite the graphic nature of the book, felt differently.

“I personally will not go down the road of censorship unless it is so erroneous that it’s called for,” Dominic Perigo said in his statement. “In this case, it is not, and I believe that the book should stay on the shelf.”

Board member Rudy Alfonso, a Navy veteran, felt the same way.

“I think about the principles that our Founding Fathers laid ground for us (and) all the battles and all the people that have died over our 200-plus years to keep these fundamental freedoms in place and to allow us to have the choice whether or not we want to read something or not read something,” he said in his statement. “Banning this book, to me, would almost be like turning my back on all those hundreds of thousands of American veterans, men and women, who have died to allow us to keep those freedoms and not to have censorship. I see this attempt to ban this book as if we live in Nazi Germany. This is the United States of America. The Statue of Liberty rings for everyone.”

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