Book challenge prompts review of school district policy

Published June 1, 2016

A Pasco Middle School parent's effort to remove the 1999 novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower has prompted school district officials to take a closer look at the policy governing book challenges.

The rule, as it stands, isn't clear that a school-level action on a title does not apply to all schools in the county. That will change, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

Top administrators are considering the creation of a list of options that a school's review committee may decide among, rather than leaving the potential action open-ended. The district already has a three-page list of questions to guide committees as they discuss the books. But it leaves a blank space where the panel is to state its recommendation.

The Pasco Middle group called for the novel's removal from all county schools — something superintendent Kurt Browning said won't happen.

"We will have a new policy recommendation," Cobbe said, adding that it likely will come at the same time the School Board considers several other policy revisions during the summer.

The debate also is spurring some changes to the district's book purchasing practices. Officials said no one at Pasco Middle read The Perks of Being a Wallflower before buying 50 copies, so no one was aware of its sexual content.

Principal Jeff Wolff said an assistant principal and learning design coach picked the title as part of a secondary round of materials purchasing, when the school had extra money for books. They based the selection on a short publisher's description that did not mention sex, he said.

For the future, Cobbe said, the curriculum department is working on new guidelines for selecting books and other materials that are not officially adopted by the state or district. Once completed, that review process will be expected to occur before a school can buy the titles.

The administration has not yet discussed how to deal with teachers who assign materials they have not reviewed in advance of giving them to children, Cobbe said.

MUSICAL CHAIRS: Connerton and Wesley Chapel elementary schools will trade principals June 13, if the School Board approves.

Aimee Mielke, who has led Connerton since 2013, will switch places with John Abernathy, who has run Wesley Chapel since 2007.

Mielke sent a note with the subject line "I Love You All!" to her staff shortly after the announcement, to briefly explain that she sought something new.

"I am excited for this change and believe it will provide a great new start for me, which is what I hoped for," she wrote. "Thank you for three amazing years!"

District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said Abernathy also was looking for a new challenge after leading his school for nearly a decade.

In addition, Paul R. Smith Middle School in Holiday will get a new principal this month. Joel DiVincent, a supervisor in the district's professional development office, will take over the spot. He replaces Susan Seibert, who is leaving for personal reasons.

DiVincent has worked for the district since 1996. He was an assistant principal at Chasco Middle School before moving to the district office.

ON AIR: Not feeling the passion yet for your reassignment to High School GGG on Old Pasco Road in eastern Pasco County, which is scheduled to open in August 2017?

It does seem a bit distant. But now there's a way to feel a little closer to the campus.

Site construction is live-streaming.

If you're interested, you can check out the latest activity — or just look at the walls and dirt during down times — and maybe start getting excited about the school to be.

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Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at or (813) 909-4614. Follow @JeffSolochek.