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Originally published: 2013-10-16 10:36:32
Last modified: 2013-10-29 11:32:52

Parent protests WHS book selection

A Watauga High School parent is challenging the selection of a sophomore honors English book she said is "horrific," "graphic" and "immoral."

Chastity Lesesne of Boone spoke before the Board of Education on Monday evening urging a quick response to her complaint before her son's class begins reading Isabel Allende's "The House of the Spirits" next week.

The 1982 fictional work, originally in Spanish, tells the story of three generations of the Trueba family as they interact in a spirit-filled world amid turbulent social revolution.

Lesesne said Tuesday that the challenging themes and ideas the book presents are lost within the novel's graphic descriptions of rape, prostitution, violence, abuse, abortion and death. The book also contains numerous curse words.

"All that is in there," Lesesne said. "It's not just in there, it's graphically painted and sensationalized."

Lesesne said she received a list of texts the class planned to read this semester at the start of the year but didn't learn about the content of "The House of the Spirits" until about a week and a half ago.

She read the book in its entirety before entering her formal complaint Monday and said she has been "flooded" with emails, calls and texts from parents who feel the same.

The class does offer Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" as an alternative reading, but Lesesne said the alternative is independent, meaning her son would not benefit from class discussions and instruction.

Lesesne said she, her husband and her son talked last week with his teacher, Mary Kent Whitaker, about their concerns. Whittaker did not immediately respond to an email by press time Tuesday.

They also spoke with a school guidance counselor and vice principal and plan to meet with the principal, she said.

Watauga County Schools' policy 4.02.40 describes a three-step appeal process for individuals to challenge educational texts.

The complaint is first referred to the school's Media/Technology Advisory Committee, which reviews the resource, weighs its merits against it alleged faults and decides whether to retain or withdraw the item.

If the complainant is not satisfied, she may then appeal the decision to a review committee appointed by the Board of Education. Those representatives include the superintendent or other central office staff, a community representative, a teacher, s principal and a media coordinator.

If still unsatisfied after the second review, the individual may take her complaints to the Board of Education. When the school board makes its decision, it applies to all schools within the system.

"When items are challenged, the principles of the right to read and free access of information shall be upheld by the Board of Education," the policy states.

Lesesne and two other parents signed up to speak at Monday's Board of Education meeting, but she was limited to speaking on the urgency of her request, rather than the actual merits.

"We have a policy that determines how that goes forward, and the board is the ultimate decision-maker as to whether the book is or is not kept in the curriculum," school board attorney Paul Miller said. "The board needs to be impartial at the time they make their decision."

Board members did not speak about the request following Lesesne's comments.

Lesesne said Tuesday it's simply not the type of book she wants her 15-year-old son, Roby, reading as he and his peers are being fashioned into quality citizens.

"I do stand firmly that it should not be in our school system," Lesesne said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Mary Kent Whitaker's name. The story has been corrected.