NC teacher on book ban debate: ‘I believe we can talk as neighbors in Casper’

NCHS theater teacher Zach Scneider speaks at the NCSD school board meeting Monday. (Screenshot via NCSD, YouTube)

CASPER, Wyo. — Dozens of people spoke Monday about whether three books should be banned from Natrona County School District’s school libraries.

While opinions on the book ban varied, school board members and others expressed confidence in the community’s ability to discuss the matter in a civilized manner in a public forum.

“Thank you all for the respect you had for each other,” said trustee Kyla Alvey, adding that she was especially encouraged by the courage of the students who rose to speak at the meeting: “What a testament to this district to look at those students.”

Trustee Kianna Smith said she felt people on both sides of the debate were making good comments, adding that the public should always feel comfortable sharing perspectives at public school board meetings: “It should be an expectation that we’re listening to you and that’s something I don’t take lightly as an elected official.”

Trustee Clark Jensen also expressed his appreciation for the quality of the conversation: “The public debate is really important so thank you all, it was a good evening.”

The trustees were not the only ones to express their optimism about the people who attended the public meeting. Theater instructor Zach Schneider of Natrona County High School said during the meeting’s public comment period that “the fact that so many people are so involved in children’s education is so amazing.”

On the other hand, Schneider said he thinks people’s interest in public education should go beyond just getting involved when hot-button issues arise: “It can’t be because you’re being thrown into an emotional frenzy by forces outside of society.” our community.”

Schneider said that he previously worked as a reporter for school board meetings for the Casper Star-Tribune and that there were many occasions when school board meetings were poorly attended by members of the public.

He added that he thinks the community is able to discuss difficult topics together, even when there are differences of opinion: “I believe in Casper we can have conversations as neighbors.”

As a theater instructor at NC, Schneider said part of his job is facilitating conversations.

“Theatre is the study of life, of human history,” said Schneider. “I’m on these conversations all the time.”

Schneider said he sometimes engages students in conversation about Greek plays, many of which contain narrative elements that some might find controversial, and addressed some of his comments to trustee Debbie McCullar, who was his English teacher in the ninth grade.

“Oedipus, ladies and gentlemen, did some unspeakable things,” said Schneider. ‘Just like the women in ‘Lysistrata.’ Shakespeare? “Romeo and Juliet,” Mrs. McCullar? Merccution? Every joke he says is dirty.”

“So my job as a teacher is to talk to students about how we’re having conversations with this material so they can do it in an educated way and they can do it in a safe way.”

Books that some parents have expressed concern about include:

  • “Traffick” by Ellen Hopkins
  • “Monday Won’t Come” by Tiffany Jackson
  • “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe

Schneider said that, in his opinion, none of the titles meet the criteria necessary to be considered obscene under a US Supreme Court test for obscenity. The court established an obscenity test in a 1973 decision establishing the following guidelines, according to the Freedom Forum Institute:

  • Whether the average person, applying contemporary community norms, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the lustful interest
  • Whether the work displays or describes in a manifestly offensive manner sexual conduct that is specifically defined by applicable state law
  • Whether the work as a whole has no serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value;

“To pass the test of obscenity, it has to pass all three things,” Schneider said.

NCSD Superintendent Mike Jennings said Monday the district has a process in place to review materials when concerns are raised about their suitability for children. Jennings said Chief Inspector Walt Wilcox had approached parents who expressed concerns after a December meeting to review material from the works of which they were concerned.

NCSD Administrative Ordinance 6132 describes how the district delegates powers to school-level professionals to select library and other resources. The regulation also sets out a review procedure when complaints are submitted.

The regulatory process requires schools receiving complaints to first attempt to resolve issues informally, by notifying the NCSD’s Curriculum and Instruction Department when complaints are made.

“The principal or other appropriate staff will explain to the inquirer the school’s selection procedure, criteria and qualifications of the individuals selecting the resource,” the regulation states. “The director or other appropriate personnel will explain the specific place the questioned resource occupies in the curriculum, its intended educational utility and additional information about its use, or refer the party to someone who can identify and explain the use of the resource . ”

People can also file formal complaints by requesting a copy of the district’s “Request for Educational Resources Reconsideration” form. That form is also available online.

“The form ‘Request for reconsideration of educational materials’ is signed by the questioner and submitted to the client”, the regulation states. “The request for reconsideration is referred to the Superintendent or his/her authorized representative.”

When formal complaints are received, the inspector is charged with appointing a reconsideration committee which must include “the following membership, as appropriate”:

  • Supervisor/chairman
  • Two headmasters
  • Two laymen “with expertise in the field”
  • Two teachers in the classroom (one selected by the president of the Natrona County Education Association)

The committee is expected to be formed and meet within 20 days of receipt of a formal complaint.

“The review committee may elect to consult with district support staff and/or community members with related professional knowledge,” the ordinance states. “The reconsideration committee will review and investigate the challenged source and assess whether it complies with the selection principles set forth by the NCSD.”

The committee can do the following when assessing material:

  • “Determine professional acceptance by reading critical reviews of the source.
  • “Weigh values ​​and errors and form opinions based on the material as a whole rather than passages or sections taken out of context.”
  • “Discuss the challenged resource in the context of the educational program.”
  • “If necessary, discuss the challenged item with the individual questioner.”

The committee is charged with preparing a written report within 30 days of the start of the assessment. The decision of the committee shall be made public. The district council is expected to discuss the committee’s report with the person who submitted the complaint.

“The decision of the Reconsideration Committee is binding on the entire District for a period of two (2) years.; therefore, materials that have been formally reviewed may not be reconsidered for a period of at least two (2) years.” “Notwithstanding any procedure set forth in this Regulation, the inquirer or personnel using the material shall have the right to appeal a decision of the Reconsideration Committee to the Board of Directors as the final review panel.”

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