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Ringgold School Board bans book in haste

| Thursday, July 24, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

The Ringgold School Board banned a book in the haste of the meeting and questioned the action after the meeting.

The board voted to ban “The Handmaid's Tale,” Canadian author Margaret Atwood's highly decorated but often challenged 1985 book. The futuristic book has been challenged in various school districts for its use of profanity and graphic sexual references.

But after the meeting, Board President Mariann Bulko said, after contemplating their vote, the board felt it did not support the administration's judgment.

“We're regretting that we were taken by surprise,” Bulko said.

“We're regretting that vote and it will be rectified.”

Colleen Tolliver told the directors Wednesday night she was addressing them on behalf of her niece, a senior at Ringgold High School.

Toliver said the book in question is required summer reading for seniors.

She said her sister requested an alternate assignment for her niece and was given the Charles Dickens novel, “Great Expectations.”

But she raised concerns that discussion of “The Handmaid's Tale” would make up a major portion of the class discussion for the first nine weeks.

“I therefore would like to appeal to the school board to limit the impact of this book to a written book review by those who have read it, in lieu of nine weeks of class discussion,” Toliver said.

“Also, in the future, this book should be removed from the curriculum or at the very least be included as one option in a robust reading list.

“If it is political commentary the English Department is seeking, there are far more appropriate and relevant choices, including “1984,” “Animal Farm,” “Fahrenheit 451” and “Utopia” just to name a few.”

Rhonda Baertsch said shock value is intended by the author.

She said students who do not read it are at an disadvantage when taking the advanced placement language and composition test.

High school students who pass that test receive equivalent college credits.

She said the book is recommended by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, but director Gene Kennedy interrupted her, calling the novel “garbage.”

Director Chris Carroll said the book uses language that, if used by students, would get them expelled.

“The message is very important message, but the author used language to shock,” Superintendent Dr. Karen Polkabla said.

Baertsch suggested the board read the book before passing judgment, but Kennedy interrupted her, saying, “I don't read Penthouse and I won't read this.”

“I personally am offended,” director Larry Mauro said with reference to the book.

Mauro made a motion to “suspend use of this book.”

It was passed with one objection.

“They're already reading it,” Director Bill Stein said.

“It's kind of silly to ban it in the middle of their summer,” he added.

Because Mauro's motion was not on the agenda, the public was given a chance at the end of the meeting to make comment.

One resident chastised the board for “micromanaging” the administration.

“Kennedy apologized for interrupting Baertsch previously, saying, “My emotions got the best of me.”

“It was shocking. We had no expectations of this coming up tonight,” Bulko added.

Parent Jennifer Smith said her son is already reading the book.

Smith said she has a master's degree in English and called the book “well known.”

“You're making judgments with-out ever reading it,” Smith said.

“I agree with what you said,” Bulko replied.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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