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Gilford schools to switch to 'opt-in' policy on fiction books

Union Leader Correspondent

June 03. 2014 10:50PM

GILFORD — In response to angry parents who have come to the school board’s recent meetings to voice complaints about the school district’s use of a book with content deemed by one parent as “triple-X-rated,” the district will notify parents ahead of all fiction books planned for classes next year.

In a switch from the district’s past “opt-out” procedure, by which parents were supposed to be notified of potentially controversial reading ahead of English, social studies and humanities classes, next year parents will be given an “opt-in” procedure, meaning they will have to give consent to allow their child to read the titles to be used, according to Superintendent Kent Hemingway.

Under the new procedure, all fiction reading materials for each class will be listed in the course expectation sheet that parents receive prior to the start of new classes. Parents will decide ahead of time what fiction books their children will be reading, Hemingway said.

In addition, fiction books used in each class next year will be listed on the school district’s website ahead of class starts. With each listing, there will be a link to third-party reviews of the books, he said.

School district officials are trying to be responsive to parental complaints, he said. They found the new procedures from looking at other schools in the state, such as those used in Bedford.

“Our goal in these new procedures is to be as transparent and open as possible,” Hemingway said.

Parent William Baer brought complaints to the board on May 5 after his ninth-grade daughter was assigned the book “Nineteen Minutes” by bestselling author Jodi Picoult of Hanover for an honors English class.

He said he and his wife were appalled by the graphic detail in a passage describing a sexual act, and wanted to know why he wasn’t consulted about the book. He was arrested at the meeting for exceeding the board’s two-minute comment period rule and after he began arguing with another parent about the school’s use of the book.

Baer, who was joined by other parents in his complaints at the meeting, was charged with disorderly conduct and was led from the room by a police officer, and still disputes the reasons for his arrest.

At that meeting, school board officials again apologized for failing to notify parents ahead of class about the use of the book, as is normal school policy. The district’s failure to notify parents was an oversight, school officials said.

Hemingway said the district responded to parental complaints by coming up with the new procedures, though the policies for parental complaints may remain the same, he said.

Baer was somewhat pleased with news of the change.

“They basically implemented everything I suggested,” he said.

“But you would think they would actually publicly apologize to me and my family for the stress, anxiety, and public embarrassment they caused us by their negligence in not doing the right thing from the start.”

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