Wed, Jan 5, 2005

Owen-Withee board rejects book-ban request

By Jeni Lewis
Marshfield News-Herald
OWEN - School Board members have denied a request to remove what protesters call a "pervasively vulgar" book with a sexual subject content from school library shelves.

A few citizens in the district, including some parents with no children in district schools, wanted "Rainbow Boys" by Alex Sanchez removed from Owen-Withee Junior and Senior High School.
"A whole bunch of people went to the School Board to ask them to remove it, and they wouldn't remove it," said Holly Strickland of Owen, who home-schooled her kids and who said she hasn't read the book - only reviews of it. "To us, it's a homosexual recruiting tool. We're going to try and bring it up again. We're going to try and reason it out of there on the vulgarity issue."
She said about 15 people made the removal request to the board.

"Rainbow Boys" is about teen-age boys who are facing changes in their lives. Homosexuality and how gay men fit into their community is addressed in the book.

After the school received the challenge, a committee of teachers was formed to read and respond to the book, said Dan Taft, principal of the high school. Those responses were passed on to the challengers, as well as reviews by national organizations.
If a challenger still wants a book removed after that, the process goes to the superintendent. James Friesen looked over the reviews and made a recommendation that students in grades seven through nine have parental permission to check out the book and it be made available without restriction to high school students.

The book talks about how students deal with being accepted into their communities when they think they would be shunned by peers and family.

"Kids aren't naive. They know this stuff goes on," Taft said. "You hate to get in a position where these are some of your kids who are maybe thinking suicide."
Other districts have similar policies if a literature or curriculum selection is thought to be inappropriate by community members.
Marshfield School District not only has a challenge policy, but also one on how pieces are selected to be placed within the library, said Joyce Fox, library media specialist at Marshfield High School. "Rainbow Boys" has never been shelved at Marshfield High School.

"We have a selection policy which also is school board approved," she said. "It has to meet our standards, we consult review sources and it has to be age-appropriate."
Schools also look for books that will fit in with the curriculum, said Carolyn Sauer, Spencer district librarian. Spencer has a copy of "Rainbow Boys" in its library. She goes by recommendations from national review organizations, as well as teacher requests.

Books are challenged based on subject and language, said Lori Belongia, director of the Marshfield Public Library. But it doesn't happen often.

"Different people have different standards," she said. "We've had a challenge on witchcraft materials."
When a challenge is made, the library asks for reasons why the book should be removed. The challenger is asked what is offensive about the material, as well as how much was read.

"If you pick just a portion of it without the work as a whole ... you might find it might not have a redeeming value," Belongia said.
Strickland said a survey has been sent to taxpayers in Owen-Withee, asking if they support the board's decision to keep the book on the shelf. She expects to have the surveys returned within the month, and intends to take the results back to the board.

Jeni Lewis can be reached at 384-3131 or 800-967-2087, ext. 329 or at

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