- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 21, 2002

Parents in Fairfax County will speak out at a town hall meeting next month on their right to decide what their children read at school, and the School Board is preparing for a hearing this week on its first book challenge.
The board will decide tomorrow whether to keep Steven Pressfield's "Gates of Fire" on high school library shelves. Stan Barton, a member of Parents Against Bad Books in Schools (PABBIS), filed the challenge claiming the book, set in 480 B.C. in northern Greece, contains passages unfit for children to read.
"There are dozens of instances of extremely violent scenes in the book that I am concerned about," said Mr. Barton, whose two daughters will attend Westfield High in Centerville in four years' time.
The book is now in the libraries of some county high schools, including Westfield.
Two assistant superintendents and some School Board members will attend the May 2 town hall meeting at Jackson Middle School in Falls Church. Members of PABBIS which was set up by some county parents who object to certain books in schools and Right to Read, a group that supports free access to books in school libraries, will speak at the meeting. A presentation will be made on the county's book selection process.
"We wanted people in the community to understand what the process is about," said School Board Chairman Stuart Gibson, who has voted against banning certain books from school libraries.
Commenting on the book challenge, Mr. Gibson said he doesn't believe some parents should be telling others what their children should read. "Mr. Barton has the right to supervise what his children read, but he also wants to prevent other parents and their children from reading these books," he said.
Peggy Duffy, who has a child at Westfield, said she would be thrilled if her son were to read the 983-page book. "Children do not read enough these days," she said, adding that she believes the school system and board have high standards.
"The idea of a small group of parents dictating what is appropriate educational material for all children is absurd," she said.
Last year, the board decided on two book challenges against "Druids" by Morgan Llewellyn and "The Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett. While the board voted to retain "Druids" in high school and took it off the shelves of middle schools, they limited access to "The Pillars of the Earth" to students in grades 10 through 12.
Both challenges were filed by Kathy Stohr, whose daughter attends Westfield. Mrs. Stohr said parents like her are forced to file book challenges continually "because after each challenge the outcome is that the books stay and the impression given is that anything goes."
In a move to address these concerns, the School Board approved last year a set of guidelines on book selection that include creating a review panel inside each school to scrutinize print materials used in classroom instruction. Mrs. Stohr said the guidelines, however, did not help.
She welcomes the chance to speak out at the meeting but hoped it would be more in the form of a debate. She will address the fact that parents must be aware of what their children are reading and that there are books in school libraries with "extreme content."
Destiny Burns, who will represent Right to Read at the meeting, and Westfield's principal, Dale Rumberger, did not return several calls for comment yesterday.
Mitch Luxenburg, president of the county council of PTAs, said his group had heard from both camps. "We have been grappling with the issue with whether or not a book should have limited distribution so that there is not a continual circulation of book challenges tying up the School Board."
There are parents on both sides of the debate, he said. "This is obviously a very emotional issue."

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