- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2001

Parents in Fairfax County, Va., want the power to object to several rape-filled and blood-lust books now sitting on school library shelves from ever being part of a class reading list. The books mortified parents who read them.

They are asking that teachers send home parental-consent notes before assigning any book that has sexually explicit or anti-religious material.

The notes would list objectionable material in such school library books as "Gates of Fire" and "The Antagonists," which include detailed rape scenes and the impaling of a male reproductive organ.

Neither of the books is on any current course reading lists.

Parents who want to keep books off reading lists must go through a challenge process they describe as tedious and that can take months.

"Upfront parental consent is the quickest way to deal with this," said Alice Ess, whose daughter Megan is a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School.

Mrs. Ess and her husband, Richard, last year objected to a book on a supplementary reading list for Megan's English class at Thomas Jefferson High School. They noted that "Druids," by Morgan Llewelyn, had explicit references to oral sex and a sentence in which a character expressed a desire to rape.

But the Esses who have since found other objectionable books assigned to students have not filed a challenge to have the book taken off the list because, they say, the process is too "bureaucratic."

First, a parent must formally file a challenge with the public schools system. Then a review committee of teachers, parents and students must meet at least three times to discuss the book. The review committee then votes to retain or remove the book.

If the panel decides to keep the book, an appeal can be filed with the School Board.

Kathy Stohr, who did not want her child's school revealed, decided going through the challenge process was worth it to get "Druids" off the library shelves.

"It is wrong for a book like that to be in public school libraries," she said. "It is the kind of book no one on the School Board would dare to read out loud."

"There needs to be a policy that such books have no place in our curriculum," she said.

Mrs. Stohr filed her challenge in October. The review committee took up the challenge in December, voting 9-0 to keep the book in the libraries.

A report from the review committee said the book had "many redeeming themes," and that the references to "sex magic" one of the points to which Mrs. Stohr objected were a minor element.

Committee members said what is objectionable to one parent may be acceptable to others for the literary growth of their children.

Mrs. Stohr said she filed an appeal immediately thereafter to have her challenge reviewed. The School Board will hear the appeal this week.

She said she "respected" the review process and was glad it was available to parents, but that it took too long and could "intimidate" them. Parental-consent notes would avoid the delays, she said.

School Board chairman Jane Strauss, Dranesville district, said matters should not have to reach the point where parental-consent notes are needed that teachers should not suggest books with explicit sexual content in the first place.

She said that while she does not find "Druids" pornographic, it "is not a book you would find in public libraries in the children's or young adults' section."

She will say at tomorrow's meeting that the book should be carried in libraries only for historical research and should not be suggested reading for any student.

"Druids" was on the shelves of five county school libraries: Hughes Middle School, Thomas Jefferson High School, Lake Braddock Secondary School, West Springfield High School and Woodson High School.

A School Board member said Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech has sent board members a note saying Hughes has decided to take "Druids" off its shelves, and that Woodson had lost its copy and decided not to replace it.

The Washington Times first reported the issue in June. Since then, "Druids" has been taken off the suggested reading list for students at Thomas Jefferson High School.

School Board member-at-large Rita Thompson says schools have a "moral obligation" to fulfill parents' expectations that schools are safe for their children.

"Parents don't have that expectation in college, but in schools they want kids mentally, spiritually and physically safe," she said. However, she said one should be careful to not ban good authors "who didn't have a poisonous mind. After all, the Book of Solomon is also pretty graphic," she said.

County schools spokesman Paul Regnier said the Esses' proposal for parental involvement was "too broad," but did not comment further.

He said books on reading lists usually are chosen by teachers, and those in the curriculum are selected by textbook-adoption committees that often include parents.

Parents, he added, do have a say in what books their children check out of libraries and can look at the books children bring home as suggested reading.

But Mrs. Stohr says she does not want to have to monitor every book her daughter brings home.

"School libraries should be held to different standards than public libraries. Pornography has no place in our curriculum," said Mrs. Stohr.

Mitch Luxenburger, Fairfax County's Council of PTAs president, said he found the idea of parental consent for certain books "interesting" and something the council would want to explore.

Mrs. Ess agreed there were problems with their proposal for parental involvement. For example, if one or two parents objected to a book that was to be discussed in class, she said, that should not be enough to block a book from reading lists. But she would like to be able to pull her daughter out of the discussion.

Still, "just making out those forms will make teachers more cautious about the reading they assign," she said.

Some Fairfax parents have pulled their children out of classes because of reading material.

Kristine Nicholls said she had to remove her daughter from an international baccalaureate English course at Marshall High School because her child was "uncomfortable" with a book she was asked to read as part of the course.

"When I asked which of the books had similar content, the teachers went through the reading list and [checked off] half the books," Mrs. Nicholls said. She ended up taking her daughter out of the advanced class and enrolled her in a regular English class, although the baccalaureate class would have given her a higher grade point average.

"Movies and CDs are labeled as being suitable or not for children, but we get no such warning with books," said another parent, Deb Caskey. She agreed that having teachers send home parental-consent forms before assigning books was a good solution.

Mr. Ess has created a Web site, www.pabbis.com, where parents who have strong objections to certain books in public schools can post their opinions. The site lists books found in school libraries and on suggested reading lists that parents think contain objectionable material.

"Right now, most parents are not aware their children are reading such books. If they did, most would be shocked like us," Mrs. Ess said.

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