There weren't many empty seats Friday morning during the Brunswick County Board of Education meeting to review the appeal of a decision to keep The Color Purple in circulation at West Brunswick High School.
And after more than two hours of debate and multiple votes, the school board decided to keep the novel in schools.
Commissioner Pat Sykes recently issued a challenge to the book being used in some high school English classes at the school.
Sykes said the sexual content and language used in the book is inappropriate, although she admitted in her written appeal that she only read a portion of the book.
In December, Brunswick County Schools Superintendent Dr. Edward Pruden upheld a decision to keep the Pulitzer Prize winning novel as part of curriculum at WBHS, but the decision was appealed to the full Brunswick County Board of Education, which ultimately upheld the decisions as well.
Dr. Pruden issued his decision, in part saying that the presence of vulgar words can't lead to a summary dismissal of certain pieces of literature, because they are "descriptive of the human condition."
Sykes presented a petition during the meeting Friday with about 70 signatures. She said she was addressing the board as a concerned citizen, not as a county commissioner.
"We are spending taxpayer money on what I consider immoral and un-supportable material in schools," explained Sykes, who said her ultimate goal is bigger than just one book. "I hope it gives the school system a chance to look at how the process of choosing books for schools is taken."
During her time to speak, Sykes asked Pruden to read a passage from The Color Purple aloud, but the superintendent declined saying, "I'll have my comments in a moment."
The WBHS Improvement Team spoke during the meeting to reiterate the fact that a syllabus is given to each student and parent at the beginning of the year which highlights the material on the curriculum. They went on to remind the board parents and students have the ability to request alternative readings, if desired.
The principal at WBHS said only Sykes has approached him about removing The Color Purple from the curriculum. He did say; however, he received two or three alternative reading assignments.
When it was Pruden's turn to speak, he explained the topic has gotten attention nationwide from censorship groups, university professionals, and the general public.
"Our children will be watching as our board decides an important decision for us this morning," said Pruden. "They will be observing the manner in which we all leave here today. My fervent hope is they will see fellow citizens who have had their say and who have resolved a contentious matter with a forgiving spirit."
After hearing from more than a dozen members of the community with strong opinions on both sides of the debate, school board leaders thought they were ready to make a vote. After a great deal of discussion and receiving clarification from legal counsel that their initial 3-2 vote had banned the book, the Board quickly reversed their vote. The final motion which passed 3-2 upheld Pruden's decision for the novel to remain in schools for 11th and 12th grade Advanced Placement courses and in the media collection.
Board Chairman John W. Thompson said this whole issue will be reviewed, and procedural or policy changes will be discussed for future plans on this book as well as other materials used in school.
"The appeal itself revealed some of the weaknesses in the policy," Thompson said. "We had some parents who were surprised to find books on the kitchen table and that should never be the case. I think any policy that isn't informing the parents first, needs to be tweaked and revised."
Any policy revisions or committee developments will be discussed at the boards next curriculum meeting January 21.
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