Sioux Valley School Board votes to keep book

'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' at center of discussion

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VOLGA — “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” will remain available to sophomores in the English II class in the Sioux Valley School District, but with, among other things, the option for parents to sign off on having their children read the book.

The book, by Stephen Chbosky, was the subject of a special meeting on Monday of the Sioux Valley Board of Education. The book is part of the English II class curriculum for sophomores, and it had come under fire from a group of parents who objected to some of the book’s content.

Roughly 30 district residents were on hand to watch the proceedings. Public input was not included on the agenda, so none of those in attendance were able to address the board, either in support or objection to the book.

Board Chair David Squires called the meeting to order, and the roll of board members was taken with all in attendance. The quorum being established, the agenda was approved, and discussion began with Vice-Chair Krista Benson telling the board that she and other Policy Committee members had gone through the school’s policies in question “line-by-line” and “the book does not violate any of these policies.”

The discussion then turned to options for the English II unit. Superintendent Laura Schuster asked class instructor Brittney Aman to share what she had come up with to revise the unit.

“There are definitely two sides to this issue, and we’re offering three equal options for students to complete the requirements of the unit,” Aman said.

The options are:

  • Read “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
  • Read a different coming-of-age book, with Aman providing a list of recommended titles.
  • Have the student complete an independent study of an informational text on a subject young people face, such as a teenage crush, depression, eating disorders or a wide variety of other issues.

“Our goal is not to normalize or promote any of these issues,” Aman said.

Squires then spoke saying he had received many calls and texts from concerned parents and students alike, both for and opposed to the text.

“I’m not against ways for kids to express themselves, but I would prefer looking at other books,” he said.

Board member Clay Bastian spoke next.

“I feel any book our kids are reading that may deal with some of these issues and has what may be objectionable material should be signed off by parents so they know what their kids are reading,” he said. “I’ve gotten no negative feedback from students. This is what our kids are faced with.” He added that he supported the plan of options for the unit.

Board member Clint Kooima also shared his thoughts.

“I’ve gotten a lot of texts and emails, and it seems this book deals with the issues teens face in the most pure way it can be addressed. The problem is, if we allow this book to be removed, what’s next?”

Board member Jamie Trygstad also spoke regarding parents signing off on the book.

“Does this form create more issues? Does every book need to be approved?” Trygstad asked. He also mentioned another book which had been brought to his attention: “The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls that the freshmen are reading.

Lastly, Benson noted that she has received a number of emails and texts and that she read every one of them. 

“It’s clear there is a lot of passion for our students and their education,” she said. “I’m for parental choice, and we’re giving them options. Our goal is to prepare students to be well-rounded people.”

A motion was made to approve retaining the book in the curriculum, along with offering other options for students in the unit and to have parents sign off on their children reading the book. The motion passed 4-1, with Squires voting no. Another motion was made to handle “The Glass Castle” in a similar fashion, by having parents sign off on that as well. The motion passed on a 3-2 vote, with the dissenting board members saying because they weren’t familiar with that book, they voted no.

The board then turned to approving claims. The list of claims was short, and they were approved for payment on a unanimous vote. Squires adjourned the meeting at 5:26 p.m.

Some of the public in attendance expressed dissatisfaction that they were not allowed to speak; however, they had that opportunity at the board meeting on Feb. 13, which many took advantage of.

Notes on the books

Here’s a little background on the books discussed:

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” was released in 1999. It has since been challenged by several districts around the country. Parents have objected to some of its sexually explicit content as well as talk of drug use and suicide. The storyline is a freshman boy, who considers himself a wallflower and outsider, is taken under the wing of two seniors, a girl and her stepbrother, who introduce the younger student to some issues he hasn’t yet encountered. Others who support the book argue that it deals with real and common issues teens face in growing up. In 2012, the book was placed at No. 16 on National Public Radio’s list of the 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels. 

“The Glass Castle” is a memoir of a “deeply dysfunctional family who are also uniquely vibrant.” It, too, has been met with some resistance from parents; however, it is a story of “resilience and redemption,” according to online reviews.