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Ringgold restores suspended book to list

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Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Maureen Ott is familiar with the novel “The Handmaid's Tale” because it was required summer reading for her daughter, Emma, and other Ringgold High School seniors.

“I tried to give her some guidance about what we consider acceptable,” said Ott, chairwoman of the Ringgold School Board Curriculum Committee.

This week, the school board voted to place such reading assignments and discussions in the hands of parents, reversing its action from the previous month.

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

Ott did not attend the school board meeting last month when the board voted either to suspend – or ban – use of the book, depending upon interpretation of the motion made.

Director Larry Mauro moved to “suspend use of this book.”

But board Vice President Bill Stein noted at the time that students were already reading the book this summer, adding, “It's kind of silly to ban it in the middle of their summer.”

“I felt it was knee-jerk reaction made that night without further consideration,” Ott said. “I would never have agreed to the action they took.

“I discussed it with my daughter when she read it. She wasn't a big fan of the book, either.”

Ott said they discussed what their family viewed as being morally acceptable.

Seniors had a second reading option, the Charles Dickens classic, “Great Expectations.” Ott said many students chose “The Handmaid's Tale” simply because it is much shorter than “Great Expectations.”

This week, the board agreed to provide more summer reading options for students – at least five – in the future.

The district also will provide parents with information on the books so they can determine what is appropriate for their children.

“I feel that's where decisions should be made,” Ott said.

Director Larry Mauro, who led the effort to pull the book from the summer reading list last month, cast the lone no vote this week when the board agreed to return it to the reading list.

“I voted no on the motion because I didn't think it made any sense to rescind my (July) motion,” Mauro said. “My motion was to suspend use of the book until further review. That further review occurred.

“It was a foolish motion (Wednesday).”

Mauro said he read the book and wasn't impressed with it.

“I didn't see where it had any literary value,” Mauro said. “I've read other books with similar themes: totalitarian society, rights being taken away. There are a lot of books better than that.

“The shock value was the reason for the descriptive language, and I didn't see the literary value of it.”

Superintendent Dr. Karen Polkabla said parents should decide whether students read the book.

“We never banned the book,” Polkabla said. “We suspended it until further study.”

One school director said the board regretted its action in July. After the July meeting, board President Mariann Bulko said that after contemplating the vote, the board felt it did not support the administration's judgment.

The action to suspend was taken after resident Colleen Tolliver objected to the book.

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

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