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Committee backs taking Blume novel off shelves

(ran PW edition of Pasco Times)

A committee of community members and school district employees is recommending that the Judy Blume novel Deenie be removed from elementary school shelves in Hernando County.

After 45 minutes of deliberation Thursday, the narrowly divided seven-member panel deemed the 30-year-old story about a seventh-grade girl dealing with scoliosis as more appropriate for children in higher grades.

The recommendation came more than four months after a Spring Hill Elementary School parent complained that the book contained sexually explicit passages, especially relating to masturbation, that she believed children in elementary schools should not be reading.

"To me, it's not a matter of censorship. It's a matter of parental control . . . and also a matter of appropriateness," Jerri Trammel told the committee Thursday. "This was not the time I wanted to talk about masturbation (with her 10-year-old daughter). Maybe in a year or two, but not now."

She urged the committee to support taking Deenie out of the elementary schools.

"I want to protect other children," Trammel said. "They don't need to know that information yet."

After Trammel's initial complaint in October, a school-based committee could not reach a decision on what to do with the book and sent the question to the district level. The district's challenged materials review panel, which met Thursday, was delayed in its meeting after the St. Petersburg Times challenged the district's intent to allow the session to take place privately.

The School Board agreed in December to open the meeting, after its lawyer advised that the district likely would lose if it fought the Times in court.

Next, the School Board will have to decide whether to follow its committee's recommendation.

The four-member majority proposed removing the book, but some members on both sides of the vote indicated they could have gone either way.

Westside Elementary media specialist Kathleen East, for instance, observed that the book's fourth-grade reading level does not necessarily correlate with its maturity level. The protagonist is 13, she noted, and it is quite likely that Blume intended the book for readers of that age group, who are experiencing the same concerns about growing up.

At the same time, East said, children who are too young to understand the passages about Deenie touching her "special place" likely would be bored with the book and not even read that far. She ultimately went with her "gut" and voted to remove the novel.

Eastside Elementary principal John Finney said he worried about the book's discussions of topics more suited to teens. But he also noted that children develop at different rates and ages, and said many older elementary school students might benefit from reading the book.

Though "torn," he supported keeping the book available.

Others on the committee were unwavering.

Parent Bill Bell said the book had no place in elementary schools, where kids might use it to start lurid sex conversations. If some children want to read it, he said, they should go to the public library or have their parents buy it.

Eastside Elementary teacher Beverly Holland argued that the book was written in a clear manner that debunks myths about masturbation. She also noted that the book deals with a variety of issues that teenagers and increasingly preteens deal with, and it can provide them useful information. The schools cannot control how they use it, she contended.

"I might be learning to fly a plane, but it doesn't mean I'm going to jump out of one," Holland said.

Much of the debate centered on whether the district should allow the book to remain available for those who want or need it, or whether it should try to protect children from the content in lieu of parents who might not pay attention.

In the end, the committee determined that the district must act in the best interest of the largest number of children. And that meant taking Deenie out of the elementary schools.

The School Board has not scheduled its debate on the issue. Until the School Board acts, policy requires that the book remain available.

_ Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at (352) 754-6115 or solocheksptimes.com.

"All that week I kept hoping Dr. Kliner would call to say everyone had made a terrible mistake. That there's nothing wrong with me after all and that I definitely don't have scoliosis. Every time the phone rang I jumped but it never was Dr. Kliner. I touched my special place practically every night. It was the only way I could fall asleep and besides, it felt good."

_ passage from Chapter 11 of Deenie, the Judy Blume novel challenged in Hernando County School District

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