The West Chester School Board voted to continue using the novel “Water for Elephants” as part of the curriculum for some of the district’s sophomore students on Monday.
At last month’s school board meeting a parent called the book inappropriate for district’s students and even read aloud one of the more explicit passages at the meeting.
“I think that the district’s continued use of this book is sheer lunacy,” said Mary Jo Zengel, the parent who originally objected to the book’s content and made a statement on Monday.
Zengel went on to say that she didn’t understand why students had to read this book, and not a different book with similar themes like “The Grapes of Wrath.”
Another parent, Amy Ludwig said that “Water for Elephants” is well written, but she didn’t think it was appropriate.
“It’s mainly an issue of age-appropriate content,” Ludwig said. “I’m surprised that the district approved of such a highly sexually explicit book.”
After the district originally received a complaint from Zengel, it formed a committee to explore the appropriateness of the novel.
The committee consisted of one high school senior, several teachers, community members and district officials.
The committee ruled 8-1 in favor of the book’s appropriateness.
The committee’s main contention was that not all students have to read the book. Some students in a 10th grade honors English class at Henderson were given the choice of three novels that focused on similar themes.
Students could choose between “Water for Elephants,” “Grapes of Wrath” and “Mr. Vertigo.”
Then the students would break into groups and discuss their chosen book.
The committee added to its report that all parents who had students in this class received a list from the teacher with the potential novels the students had the choice of reading.
The list included a warning to parents that some of the books might contain objectionable material, and that the teacher would be willing to discuss any objections a parent might have with that parent.
Parents then signed the piece of paper, and it was returned to the teacher.
“This brings to light what I think is the most beneficial outcome to this whole discussion,” said school board member Dr. Maria Pimley who also served on the committee. “That is the importance of the role that parents must play in their child’s education.”
Pimley added, “It should help to create and encourage open and free dialogue between parents, teachers and students in order to ensure that our children are receiving a thorough, balanced and critical presentation of curricular materials.”