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School Board In Ventura County Adopts Controversial Proposal Over Handling Of Mature Themed Books

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Hundreds of people were on hand Tuesday night as The Conejo Valley School Board approved a controverisal proposal to modify the way mature themed books for high school books are handled

The books that high school students are using in some Ventura County classrooms sparked a heated battle involving a school board, teachers, parents, and even some students.

Hundreds of people were on hand for what was a five hour Conejo Valley School Board meeting which turned into a five hour marathon, and ended with the passage of a controversial proposal to make changes in the way mature fiction, and non-fiction books are handled.

The books are ones on the state approved reading lists for ninth through 12th graders, with the ones in question having adult themes like sex and violence. The Conejo District has long had an opt-out policy, which allows a parent objecting to a book to have the teacher substitute another one for their child. But, the new policy goes a lot further, setting up a parent review panel which recommends whether the school board should place mature warning labels on books for things like sex and violence. It also sets up a procedure where teachers have to get a book proposed for use and to justify it, and have it signed off by their department head, the school principal, and superintendent.

Some teachers, parents, and students told the board that the policy goes too far, and that the district’s current opt-out policy gives parents the tool to have their child use an alternate book if they don’t like a teacher’s choices. Other parents who supported the move read passages from books on the state’s approved literature list with sexually explicit passages, and said they didn’t think they were appropriate reading materials for classrooms.

Part of the reason the subject is such a touchy one in the Conejo District is that over the summer, School Board Chairman Mike Dunn didn’t think the critically acclaimed book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” was appropriate for school use, because of some mature language and sexual content. But, the Board ultimately voted 4-1 to approve its use.  Some saw it as an at attempt at censorship.

The school board then set up a committee with the superintendent and teachers to look at the opt out plan. But, the committee was never allowed to present its recommendations. Board member Sandee Everett introduced the proposal which was ultimately adopted. It was introduced last week, and at the last minute this week, after a firestorm of controversy, some committee members worked with Everett to make some modifications to the policy.

Everett says the new opt-out policy isn’t an effort to ban books, but about getting parents more involved in the book review process, and giving them information so they can decide if they want their kids using the books in question.

Board member Dr. Betsy Connolly asked for a vote to be postponed, so the language of the proposal could be thoroughly reviewed. But, the board majority approved it, with Mike Dunn, Sandee Smith, and John Anderson voting for it, and Connolly objecting. The trio said they wanted to vote immediately to give district staff time to implement the modified policy next semester.