Champaign school board votes against use of 'Kite Runner'
CHAMPAIGN – The Champaign school board reversed a committee recommendation Monday night and ruled that the novel "The Kite Runner" will no longer be used for a sophomore honors English class.
Several board members said they agreed with a parent who objected to use of the book on the grounds that it was not appropriate for 14- or 15-year-olds.
The vote was 5-2, with board members Sue Grey, Nathaniel Banks, Kristine Chalifoux, Scott McAdam and Dave Tomlinson voting not to use the book, and Greg Novak and Arlene Blank voting for it.
Cindy Harmon, a parent with three children at Centennial High School, objected to the use of the book. Her daughter was assigned the book for summer reading.
The book – a novel about two boyhood friends coming of age in Afghanistan – contains a scene in which one of the boys is raped by bullies. Harmon objected to the scene, and to repeated flashbacks to the rape throughout the book by one of the characters.
Harmon said she didn't object to using the book for older students or having the book in the school's library for students who wanted to read it.
"It is a wonderful book in its totality," she said.
She also said she wasn't unhappy with her children's teachers, whom she said are "great."
"I just think (assigning the book) was a poor decision," Harmon said.
Several school board members voting against using the book for sophomores agreed the book was a high-quality novel. They voted against its use because of age-appropriateness.
"I wouldn't want my daughter to read this book," Grey said. "It's not appropriate for my daughter at 14."
Chalifoux agreed, saying books can have a tremendous impact and let readers experience things they haven't experienced in their real lives.
"I don't want my children to experience rape, and that book does a wonderful, graphic job of experiencing rape," Chalifoux said.
Central English teacher Diane Salfelder said she doesn't discuss the rape itself, but rather the inability of one character to deal with it. Her students also discuss the social backgrounds of the characters and the history of the country. She noted high school students study world literature as sophomores.
"I have found my students able to deal with it very maturely," Salfelder said. "It's a wonderful, contemporary book. It does open up a new world to them about another country that's very important to their lives right now."
Among the standards in choosing reading assignments for the district are that students read a wide range of literature to build up an understanding of themselves and cultures of the U.S. and the world, and an understanding of the many dimensions of the human experience.
Judy Wiegand, the district's director of secondary curriculum, said the committee reviewing the complaint – comprising teachers, parents, students, librarians and administrators – recommended continued use of the novel because the rape scene, while disturbing, is central to the story, is not portrayed in a gratuitous manner and is not inappropriate for sophomore honors students.
Novak said the book might not be appropriate for every sophomore, but more is expected of students who are preparing to enter Advanced Placement English as seniors. He also said he voted for keeping the book as a sophomore assignment because he trusted the judgment of the English teachers.
If an individual student objects to an assigned book, teachers can provide an alternative reading assignment. However, Harmon said a student should not have to opt out, be singled out and miss class while others are discussing the book.
Grey said students should have multiple books to choose from.
"We say students should read a wide range of literature, yet we give them one choice for summer reading," she said.
Harmon also objected to the fact that there were no written guidelines for choosing summer reading assignments. The committee that reviewed the complaint and the book recommended that the district put formal, written procedures in place.
Harmon also said the process to hear the complaint and get a decision was far too long. She first raised her objection in early June.
In other business, the board met with Savoy village board members to discuss the sales tax proposal and the possibility of moving Carrie Busey Elementary School to a new school building in Savoy.
Mayor Bob McCleary said the village built a park and playground with an adjacent school in mind in the Prairie Fields subdivision.
"We want a school here. The people in Savoy have asked for a school here," McCleary said. "I really appreciate this, and that a school is in this plan."
He and Savoy Trustee Joan Dykstra said they would also like to see the school include a satellite library for the Tolono library district, to which Savoy residents belong, with a collection appropriate for elementary children.
"We need more and more dual use of buildings, collaborative use," Dykstra said.