By Amy Jahr, Ashburn
Just because we do not always speak up does not mean we are not a very large part of this community. Some are silent just because they have no reason not to question the “statements” issued by LCPS. But the majority of us are quiet because we carefully weigh the risk/reward ratio and opt to stay silent. When I read Dr. Ziegler’s statement about “the books” I had no choice but to turn up the volume.
My daughter is a student currently participating in the 9th Grade Honors English Book Club assignment at Stone Bridge and so I am keenly aware of the facts of this particular controversy. My purpose in writing is twofold: (1) to highlight the deception from Dr. Ziegler and some board members to the community regarding the controversy of this matter, and (2) to shed light on the fact that there are no policies, procedures, or guidelines in place to prevent this from happening again.
The statement released by Dr. Ziegler about these 9th grade assignments is misleading, and requires transparency. Specifically, Dr. Ziegler used the word “optional” in three out of the eight sentences in his statement, and in two different sentences referenced specific recourse for students who deem a book “inappropriate.” “#Murdertrending” (assigned at Independence HS) was indeed a required reading as acknowledged by the principal (via email) that it “was given as a required assignment” and “should not have been designated a mandatory text.” Not until he received parent complaints was the assignment stopped and “an approved, alternate anchor text” was to be provided.
The book “Monday’s Not Coming” (assigned at Stone Bridge) was included as a part of a required six-week reading assignment. Parents were not told of the list of five books ahead of time, and students made their selection based only on summaries and positive reviews on the provided link to goodreads.com. They were then assigned to a “literature circle group,” followed by an assignment of specific roles within the group. Directions included that, “literature circles require that all members of the group participate equally.” Nowhere in the assignment’s instructions was there a communication to the students that they could switch books at any time (although a 6th title was added after reading had begun to the lack of variety in themes). In fact, in the FAQ’s there is a statement that to get a good mark, “you must participate fully in your literature circle discussions” and if you don’t, “at the end of each meeting, you will submit an anonymous peer assessment sheet that will give you the opportunity to share who has not come to class prepared.”
The students won’t get to the graphic sexual content and child abuse/trauma passages until they are well into the book—and thus well established in their literature circle groups. From my timeline, having read the book, they are likely approaching those parts now. Should the students feel at this point that the content is “inappropriate,” offensive, uncomfortable, or personally too painful or too triggering to discuss openly in their groups (now more than halfway through the assignment) they are stuck. The book is no longer “optional” to those students at this point due to the hefty price tag of:
(1) an awkward conversation with their teacher,
(2) enduring questions and embarrassment of switching/“messing up” groups,
(3) having to play serious catchup and thus sacrificing their grade.
These are very real negative consequences for students. Therefore, Dr. Ziegler’s statement emphasizing “optional” and recourse for “inappropriateness” is misleading to the public. Unfortunately, this only deepens the divide within our LCPS community.
To the second point of my twofold purpose–There are no policies, procedures, or guidelines in place for teachers to use to evaluate the books that end up in the curriculum. My first thought in all of this was, “how did this happen, where were the adults?” My belief in human integrity secretly hoped this book just slipped through the cracks and we can fix this going forward. Until I saw that the book my daughter chose from the list, “All American Boys,” dropped the F*bomb not just a few times but 41 times. In further discovery of this whole mess, I learned that several teachers of the 9H English team did indeed read “Monday’s Not Coming.” And saw absolutely no concerning issues with it. None. For their 14-year-old students. Even our most vainglorious LCPS School Board member weighed in herself on social media to grant the book her full stamp of approval.
The fact that the book was chosen from the LCPS approved “Grade 9 Diverse Book Collection” list both validated the voices of the teachers who encouraged it, and also silenced the voices of those teachers who had concerns. And left our principals and teachers to take the brunt of the heat and clean up the ensuing mess.
LCPS rushed this book collection into our schools in the name of “equity,” and now LCPS must take responsibility for developing appropriate content guidelines in the name of “integrity”—much like the Motion Picture Association of America uses ratings for films; or how the FCC employs a three-pronged test (established by the Supreme Court) to determine suitability for public programming; or even how LCPS itself operates technology protection measures (via LCPS Policy 7566 & 8650) to “prevent access to child pornography, obscenity, and material that the School Division deems to be harmful to students and material that is otherwise inappropriate for students”.
If LCPS is taking full responsibility for determining inappropriateness of content at the technology level, why then would LCPS wash its hand of any responsibility for determining inappropriateness of books presented to students in class assignments? Why would Dr. Ziegler feel the need to remind parents not once, but twice, in his statement that it is parents’ responsibility to determine and manage inappropriate content of classroom assignments? There is a certain level of common sense here that is just not being used in the highest levels of LCPS and the entire country is shaking its head at the absurdity of it.
I emailed Dr. Ziegler and the School Board two weeks ago and did not receive a response (and have subsequently followed up with Dr. Ellis but still awaiting a response). I requested that LCPS issue an honest and transparent statement that this poorly implemented diverse book collection opened the door for this to happen. I also requested that LCPS develop (and publish) guidelines for our teachers to use to test for inappropriate content of the LCPS approved books before using them in assignments; otherwise, this will most assuredly happen again.
This book debacle is the perfect example that makes us question our silence: If I speak out about “common sense” level inappropriateness, I’ll be branded a racist. If I want to express my concerns confidentially, I’m directed to “submit a formal request for the Reconsideration of Instructional Materials.” Such a request will kick off a very public division level review process and anonymity is not guaranteed for the parent or the student. Who is going to risk that? Especially in light of the fact that a board member has openly endorsed the book. But this isn’t just limited to books. If parents publicly oppose the current CRT/Equity based curriculum, or even speak out wanting their kids to be in a classroom 5 days a week, they know they risk being doxxed in this county—by a very deliberate and coordinated effort.
I used to be a “silent parent,” but it’s crystal clear to me now that my continued silence only fosters a climate of intentional intimidation. I encourage you to join me in speaking up so our collective voices can be heard. All students deserve to learn in an environment that doesn’t compromise their self-respect or dignity. And that is the true foundation of equity.