GILFORD — A parent who complained last week about a book assigned to his daughter at Gilford High School was arrested and taken away in handcuffs from a school board meeting because he would not stop protesting.
William Baer, whose ninth-grade daughter last week was assigned the book "Nineteen Minutes," published in 2007 by bestselling author Jodi Picoult of Hanover, came to the meeting to protest the book’s assignment and the fact that the district forgot to send a notice home to parents about the assignment.
Baer stood and asked the Superintendent Kent Hemingway to read the notice to parents sent out Monday, which said the book "depicts high school relationships, some of which are unhealthy."
Before speaking, Baer was told he had two minutes. He went beyond that time and sat down, but then got into an argument with another parent who approved of the book at the high school.
"So what is the remedy here?" Baer asked.
The board said it would not take questions on the matter.
"Why don’t you have me arrested then?" he asked, after which an officer arrested him and took him to the police station.
Baer was charged with disorderly conduct.
Another parent, Sarah Carrigan, agreed with Baer’s statement.
"I am utterly appalled that this book was in my son’s hands," she said.
Later, School Board Chairman Sue Allen issued this statement: "The board apologizes for the discomfort of those impacted and for the failure of the School District to send home prior notice of assignment of the novel.
"The School District policies IGE, IJ, IJA, KEC (available on the school district website) refer to the procedures for the use of novels controversial material. The district will take immediate action to revise these policies to include notification that requires parents to accept controversial material rather than opt out. Furthermore, the notification will detail more specifically the controversial material. These policies will be revised prior to the 2014-15 school year."
The controversy began last week when a friend of Baer’s read the book, which Baer’s 14-year-old daughter brought home from school to read as an assignment. Baer, an attorney who said he and his wife are closely involved in their daughter’s school work, said he was appalled when he read the school-assigned book, which contains graphic sexual detail on page 313.
In an interview Friday, Picoult said the book is about a school shooting and bullying. The story begins on March 6, 2007, in the small town of Sterling, New Hampshire, and tells of the events leading up to the shooting and what followed.
It was Picoult’s first book to debut on the New York Times’ bestseller list, though it’s not the first of her books to cause controversy. Several of her books have been banned at schools because of their content, she said.
Acknowledging the controversy in Gilford, Picoult said her three children were high-schoolers when they read the book. She urged parents to "read the book with your kids, by all means use it as a springboard for discussion with your kids."
In a statement issued Friday by School Board Chair Sue Allen, Gilford High School Principal Peter Sawyer and Superintendent Kent Hemingway said they erred in not notifying parents ahead of time this year about the book assignment. They made the notifications Monday.
The school administrators said the book has been a reading selection available to Gilford High School staff since 2007. "The novel has thematic importance, it contains depictions of physical violence in public schools and an incident of sexual violence," they said.