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Originally published: 2014-02-25 12:02:09
Last modified: 2014-02-26 12:02:58

Final appeal of book challenge takes place Thursday

by Allison Haver

Members of the Watauga County community who wish to be present at the Watauga County Board of Education meeting on Thursday will need a ticket for admission.

The board of education will hear the third and final appeal regarding the use of "The House of the Spirits," in a public meeting on Thursday.
Watauga County Schools said in a news release that admission to the building would be limited through the use of tickets to ensure safe conditions for the appeal.

The tickets are free and will be available at the board of education, located on Pioneer Trail, just off N.C. 194, with a limit of two tickets per person beginning at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.  

Doors to the building will open at 6 p.m. and the meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the board of education/Margaret Gragg Education Center.  

The meeting will not be a hearing at which public comments will be heard.

According to the schools system, only the teacher in whose class the book is used, Mary Kent Whitaker, and the parent who is appealing its use, Chastity Lesesne, will make statements to the board of education.  

"We're making this announcement in advance because we don't want people to come expecting that they can address the board of education and then be disappointed when they find out otherwise," said interim Superintendent David Fonseca. "Public comments were received at the Feb. 10 board meeting."  

"The purpose of the meeting is for board members to hear directly from the teacher who uses the book and the parent who opposes its use," Fonseca said.

The novel, written in 1982 by Isabel Allende, is a part of the sophomore honors English curriculum at Watauga High School and its content is the main reason behind a Watauga High School parent book challenge.

Two other committees have voted to retain the book. In October, the Media/Technology Advisory Committee for Watauga High School, which is chaired by Assistant Principal Craig Wright and consists of students, parents and teachers, voted unanimously to retain the book, and in December, a second review committee comprised of WCS interim Superintendent David Fonseca, other county educators and a community representative, also voted to retain the book.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina announced that the foundation will be present at the board meeting.

"The freedom to read is essential to a healthy democracy," said Chris Brook, legal director of the ACLU-NC Legal Foundation. "We're proud to join students and parents from Watauga County in urging their local officials to do the right thing and not go down the slippery slope of banning books that promote critical thinking and classroom dialogue."

In the midst of the controversy created behind the challenge of Allende's novel, local law enforcement officials are the latest to be included.

The Boone Police Department and High Country Crime Stoppers are still investigating letters that teachers at Watauga High School received on Feb. 17 concerning the book.

The Boone Police Department is working with the District Attorney's Office, Watauga County Sheriff's Office and school officials to track down the author of the letters to see what the intent was behind the letters.

"It is one thing to disagree with a policy or a procedure or a book used in the schools.  It is a completely different and unacceptable thing to threaten someone because they hold a different opinion," David Fonseca said in a statement.

"This threat is a despicable attempt to intimidate a very professional and accomplished group of educators who deserve our respect.  It is also a criminal act, and we are cooperating fully with local law enforcement in their efforts to find out who is responsible for the letters. We will support the prosecution of that person or persons to the fullest extent of the law," Fonseca said.

Lt. Chris Hatton with the Boone Police Department said that several teachers at Watauga High School received several letters from an unknown individual upset about the book challenge which made them feel "threatened."

"The language used in the letters can and have made people feel threatened," Hatton said. "And that's why we are involved."

Hatton said specific detail regarding the content of the letters could not be disclosed, but he said the letters were only directed towards teachers and not students.

"It's a tough situation because folks have strong opinions about both sides (of the book challenge)," Hatton said.

"It's OK to have opinions, but sending letters with that kind of language is inappropriate," he said. "The bottom line is we don't want our teachers to feel threatened and we will do whatever we can to put an end to it."

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (828) 268-6959 or (828) 737-0125 or the Boone Police Department at (828) 268-6900.  
All information will be kept confidential.