After banning book, Pasco County principal seeks ways to avoid future problems with novels
One thing became infinitely clear as a Pasco Middle School committee considered removing Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower from circulation on Monday: Prior to the book's assignment to seventh graders last week, no one in the school had read it.
Not the assistant principal and learning design coach who purchased two classroom sets of the 1999 novel. Not the long-term substitute teacher who gave it to her seventh-grade advanced language arts class.
So they didn't know it contained graphic depictions of sex, as well as discussions about masturbation, abortion and other topics that might raise concerns among parents and children.
It's not an easy task to know the specific content of every book in the schools, superintendent Kurt Browning pointed out to an upset parent.
"I am not making excuses and I am responsible: however the district has tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of materials for instructional purposes that I cannot personally review," Browning wrote in an email. "I remain hopeful that school based staff and those making these purchasing decisions would take the time to review materials prior to purchase and certainly prior to assigning it to students to read."
That's not an easy endeavor for school staffs either, said Pasco Middle principal Jeff Wolff, who agreed with his committee that the novel didn't belong in his school. But he added that schools must have a way to better review the items before they get into the collections, much less into students' hands.
He noted that it's not a difficult step to enter each title into websites such as Common Sense Media, which rates books for families on issues such as sex, drugs, violence and positive role models. That site gave Chbosky's novel four stars for 16-year-olds, and cautioned of its graphic sexual content.
Wolff said his school had used such sites in the past, but not always.
"We definitely will now," he added. "And I would like to suggest it be done at the district level, too."
Browning has not made any decisions yet on how to proceed. He was awaiting the committee's formal recommendation. Several district staff leaders told the Gradebook that they expected to see revisions made in the district's instructional materials policies.