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School board will ultimately decide on junior high books

A group of books that were once at the center of a parent complaint may keep their place on Lake Oswego Junior High School shelves - if the school board gives the OK.

The four selections - already used as optional reading by eight graders at LOJHS - are included in a list of books teachers wish to pilot next year.

The request to use the books in class came before the school board at a meeting June 4.

But it wasn't entirely what parent Kimberly Wall had in mind in February when she spoke to the board about the language, violence and 'smut' she found in the books, which her son Greg brought home from school.

After she took a closer look at the selections - 'Alt. Ed.,' 'Shattering Glass,' 'The Chocolate War' and 'Whale Talk' - Wall asked the board to create a better parent-notification system, or, better yet, ban the books for good.

So far, she's achieved part of that goal.

Per board decision, all junior high teachers piloting a novel are now required to send a notification letter home to parents by mail. The letter includes a summary of each novel and a label that the books have mature content and themes.

Wall, who was the first person to complain about the books, is happy that the process has changed.

'Honestly, I cannot impose my family's standards on other people,' Wall said. 'My main issue was not knowing about (the books) … so I'm OK with that.'

The books, which became part of the LOJHS curriculum four years ago, should have gone through a pilot process then - but slipped through the cracks.

'That part of the process got lost and that's our fault,' Superintendent Bill Korach said. 'We want to be active in letting parents know they have choices.'

According to the pilot request, the books are again considered eighth grade literature circle novels, which students can choose from as part of unit on bullying.

The board must now approve all literature circle novels.

Teachers at LOJHS have determined that the four books are of 'high merit' and 'support the district-adopted literature curriculum.' Their purpose is to depict instances of tolerance and others' personal perspective.

Students can choose alternative reading materials if they feel uncomfortable with the material.

Korach said that some parents might find the books offensive while others consider them academically beneficial.

'How strict do you get? You have different values out there,' he said.

If the books earn board approval, the LOJHS eighth grade language arts teachers will implement the pilot in their classes.

Following the pilot, the teacher will produce a follow-up report that assesses the effectiveness of the material. A recommendation to continue the use of the works can then be made. If approved by the board again, the books will be placed on the eighth grade extended reading list.

Wall expressed appreciation to the board for taking her concerns seriously and putting the books through the formal approval process.

'They'll at least be looked at differently,' she said of the books. 'I don't know how to fix it other than having parents be more involved.'

The four books are available for public viewing at the district office.