by Eric Stearley
On the evening of Tuesday, May 27, the Metropolitan School District of Wabash County’s school board met in the district’s administrative office to address a variety of subjects. Primary among these was the approval of a list of reading materials for use in the district’s secondary English classes.
The list sparked controversy in April when parents discovered that several of the books included objectionable content. After parents expressed concerns at the April 29 meeting, four selections were removed from the list. At the May 13 meeting, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls became the focus of the debate. The vote was ultimately tabled, as board member John Gouveia was absent due to a professional obligation.
While the previous board meeting was filled with concerned (and outraged) parents, the most recent meeting saw an abundance of teachers present to show support for the English department. Two parents commented on the book list, most notably, Teresa Sears, who offered suggestions for an alternative English class, among other things.
“I talked to Indiana State Education, I talked to an attorney, and we have a right to have the Bible, not as a biblical class, but as a literature class,” said Sears. “If we put these things in front of our kids… OK, we’re not going to ban books. That’s fine. I respect the teachers who want to teach it, but their morals are not my morals. It’s legal to have a class on the Bible as a literature study, and I’m just asking for that as an alternative. And I will back off, and they can teach whatever they want.”
Sears added that when her girls are in a class with a teacher that they like, but content is being taught that is against their morals, it takes the fun out of school. Northfield English Department Head Erin Sapusek addressed the request.
“Last year, we offered an elective class of the Bible as literature, and it was not able to go,” said Sapusek. “We only had four students that signed up, and with our small staff and tight scheduling, we are not able to offer a class for just four students.”
Before the board members discussed the matter, a parent asked about the length of time that would be allowed for parents to review the books being taught in their students’ specific classes.
“The teachers have said to me that actually, once we know what the list is, they can get the list out this summer,” said Superintendent Sandra Weaver.
“Certain books will be for certain classes,” English teacher Denise Stouffer clarified. “You’ll find that out if you go online when we sit down as a department and say, ‘this is what’s being taught for this particular class.’ But we just got the kids out the door.”
The district hopes to have the lists posted early in June.
With public comments concluded, the board addressed the issue. All eyes were on John Gouveia, as the public had yet to hear his thoughts on the book list. After thanking the public for their opinions and involvement in the issue, he addressed recent comments regarding the merit of the district’s teachers.
“I’m…cognizant of the fact that we only set policy,” Gouveia said about the board. “We’re not educators. I’m not an educator. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not a CPA. I tell all my clients I’m a dumb banker.
“What has saddened me though, is the fact that this board takes a lot of pride in allowing a lot of opportunity for public comment. In the last several weeks, through social media, print media, there has been a lot of denigration of our professional staff, and that is sad, because we have some very fine administrators and educators and people that absolutely love our children. First and foremost, they think about those kids every day - when they first wake up, when they go home, and when they wake up again. They have kids in our system. I have kids in our system. Likewise, you represented yourselves because you have children or grandchildren in our system.
“Our board has established a civility toward coaches. They have equally said the same for our teachers - that they are human beings and they deserve our respect. We have charged them with the education of our children, and we have relied upon them to be the wisdom and choice in the classroom. And I know that has been called into question without direct comment or question to those teachers. I would hope that all these parents would engage our teachers first, because they are wonderful people, and being such, they have our children’s best interest at heart.”
Gouveia then spoke specifically to the book list.
“The book list, this process, I believe in my heart has worked,” Gouveia continued. “I look at the age in this room, a few younger, some older, some right around my bracket. The pedagogy may be different than what you and I experienced in school. It does not change the fact that it is the content taken out of context that sometimes we as adults get hung up on, and we don’t give our children enough credit, nor the educators the credit they deserve to moderate the discussion in that classroom.”
Gouveia then specifically addressed the Bible, as referenced by Sears earlier in the meeting.
“My best friend in life is a minister and a church pastor,” Gouveia said. “He told me that nobody should read the Holy Bible by themselves without having a learned individual help them through the process of understanding. Equally, we put that teacher in the classroom to do the same thing in our processes. With that, I am moving to the acceptance of the entirety of the slate of literature.”
Immediately following Gouveia’s remarks, the board voted unanimously to approve the book list for use over the next six years.
Following the vote, the board approved a variety of unrelated agenda items, including three grants and a donation, totaling more than $20,000. The board approved the employment of summer school staff, Sally Winters and Angela Knoche as speech pathologists for the Wabash-Miami Area Program, Tanner McCarty as a summer custodian, Devin Bechtold as a summer technician, and Stephanie Salmon as a second grade teacher at Metro North Elementary.
The board also approved the retirement of bus driver Allen Wrisk and the resignation of Erin Sapusek, a Northfield High School English teacher. She has accepted a position teaching English at Wabash High School.
Finally, the district announced the hiring of Patrick Hopkins as the new varsity basketball coach at Northfield (see page 24). They also announced the hiring of a new Chief Academic Officer, Melissa Brisco, to replace Lavonne Sparling, who is retiring. For more on Brisco, look for an article in next week’s edition of The Paper.