- The Washington Times - Monday, October 22, 2001

Parents who have been fighting the use of what they call "pornographic" literature in Fairfax County schools say a set of new guidelines created by the school system does not address their concerns.
The guidelines on appropriate reading material in school libraries will be presented at a School Board work session at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church during a work session beginning tonight at 7 p.m.
A committee made up of school system staff came up with the guidelines at the request of School Board members at large Mychele Brickner and Rita Thompson. Mrs. Brickner requested guidelines for the selection of reading materials such as English assignments, reading lists and library materials consistent with board policies on the use of Internet resources and video programming used in schools.
"Quite a few parents were appalled by the material their children read," said Mrs. Brickner, adding that many parents had called her after discovering inappropriate content in their children's books. "We are not talking about books with a few bad words, but about very explicit, very violent writing," she said.
Mrs. Thompson requested creating a parental notice form that would allow parents the right to decline permission for their child to read material that includes obscene language, descriptions of sexual acts and violence.
Parents in Fairfax who have in the past objected to what they say are explicit books have been demanding such parental consent forms. "Upfront parental consent is the quickest way to deal with this [issue]," said Alice Ess, who last year had objected to a book, "Druids," that her daughter brought home for an English class.
Mrs. Ess and her husband, Richard, have since listed several books parents find objectionable at their Web site, www.pabbis.org.
The committee recommends that parents be notified of required reading through a course syllabus or a book list.
Some members say they are happy with the guidelines. "This is a step in the right direction," said Jane Strauss, a member from Dranesville, adding that while there are some parents who think certain books should not be allowed, there are others who do not agree with their views.
The committee also asks for creating a review panel inside each school, comprising the principal and two classroom teachers, to review print materials used in classroom instruction. This panel "shall consider issues such as cultural and ethnic differences, language or word choice, religion, disabilities, violence and implied or explicit sexual situations," the guidelines say.
This, some parents say, does not deal with their concerns. "They talk about considering these issues, but there is nothing there that says you shouldn't use them," said parent Kathy Stohr, who earlier this year filed a challenge with the School Board to "Druids." The board approved keeping the book on the shelves of high school libraries but removed it from middle schools.
"This is worse than having no policy at all," said Mrs. Brickner. She said she was hoping for something that would address the age-appropriateness of books used in schools. The new guidelines, she said, would simply formalize whatever schools had been doing all this time.
Mrs. Strauss said the review panel was a "good idea."
"While it is important that books are age-appropriate, we need to allow high school students to read books that will prepare them for advanced courses and college," she said.
School system officials could not be reached for comment over the weekend.

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