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Beaverton school panel keeps Bradbury story on reading list

Parent's complaint about language, plot prompted a review of 'The Veldt'

A Beaverton School District review committee has recommended that science fiction giant Ray Bradbury be kept on the district's reading list.

The committee said Wednesday evening that Bradbury's short story 'The Veldt,' should continue to be read in school. The story prompted complaints from a middle school parent who thought its language and plot were inappropriate for students.

The seven-member committee's recommendation on 'The Veldt,' which is part of Bradbury's 'The Illustrated Man' anthology, will be forwarded to a district administrator for a final decision.

'The Veldt,' which runs about 20 pages, was published by Bradbury in 1951 as the first in the collection of 18 science fiction stories.

The plot involves the use of an 'artificial nursery,' a place where the children's parents place them to keep them in a happy environment.

When the children use the nursery to create an African world of predators, the parents talk about taking the landscape away.

The children retaliate by locking their parents inside the nursery it's made clear that they were killed by lions.

During an interview, Kristi Roberts, who challenged the work, said her daughter was in a sixth-grade humanities class at Stoller Middle School last year when 'The Veldt' was used as part of the curriculum.

Roberts said she initially objected to swear words used in the story. The word 'damn' is used in several places throughout, and Roberts felt it inappropriate to have the teacher read aloud portions of the story containing the word.

But, Roberts said, 'as I read it, there were so many other concerns.'

Those included the children plotting murders of their parents and later witnessing it with 'big smiles on their faces.'

'This isn't a good way of problem-solving,' said Roberts.

Roberts said her daughter, now in the seventh grade, attended class during the first week that 'The Veldt' was read and talked about, but was excused for the second week.

Her biggest concern was that the story offers no consequences for the children's actions. It also sends the wrong message to young people, she said.

'I do think it can influence them and give them ideas on how to do this,' she said, regarding the parents' death in the story.

During Wednesday's committee meeting, both Kristi Roberts, and her husband, Tracy, said they didn't piece was appropriate for students at any district grade level.

In the end, the committee, composed of middle school administrators, teachers and a parent (none who were associated with Stoller Middle School), decided agreed that they would vote to retain, remove or modify the story.

Rachael Spavins, a parent and volunteer coordinator at Cedar Park Middle School, said she read it as a lesson on how technology has impacted the nuclear family.

Spavins said her own sixth-grade daughter saw it as a warning that 'too much television and computers are bad for you.'

In the end, said Spavins, it came down to the amount of trust placed in the judgment of teachers.

'Fortunately, I have a huge amount of faith in the staff in the district,' she said.

Teacher David Slater said he felt Bradbury's piece was a warning that when interpersonal relationships are taken out of the family, evil is introduced.

'I too saw this as a cautionary tale and a really rich piece for discussion,' said Jenny Takeda, a district library specialist.

However, Tracy Roberts noted that if the book were a motion picture shown in school, students would have to have permission to see it.

'If this was a movie, in my mind it would be rated PG-13,' he said. 'Literature isn't rated that way and at what point do we draw the line.'

Although there was brief discussion on whether works of literature read in the schools should have warnings on them, the idea was dismissed.

Alexander Perrins, a district regional administrator, said the review committee's decision would go to Sarah Boly, district superintendent of teaching and learning, who is expected to make a decision as early as next week.

After the decision, Kristi Roberts said she was disappointed but not totally surprised, having been warned that it is difficult to have such works removed.

Perrins said several pieces of literature are challenged each year but not always with the intent of removal.