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The Meridian School District's Massive Speed Read

A school subcommittee is looking at every supplementary reading list for grades 6-12 (almost 250 books in all).


In April, the Meridian School Board voted 2-1 to remove The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Northwest author Sherman Alexie, from its high-school supplemental reading list after the grandparent of a Rocky Mountain Mountain View High School student learned the book contained sexual references and four-letter words.

"I'm going to speak from the heart: Please do the courageous thing and remove this book from the curriculum," said Sharon Blair, while lodging the original complaint against True Diary. "I do not want our children exposed to explicit, filthy, racist things."

In this case, the challengers won. The controversy shook True Diary from its position on the supplemental reading list and prompted the Meridian School Board to form a committee that would review each text on the reading list over the summer.

As the beginning of a new school year approaches--it kicks off Monday, Aug. 25--the committee is racing to determine which texts should be dropped and which texts will replace them. That's no small task, since the committee is looking at every supplementary reading list for grades 6-12 (almost 250 books in all). Frequently challenged titles on that list include The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.

The committee is expected to make its final determinations by Tuesday, Sept. 9, when recommendations go before the West Ada School District School Board.

The removal of True Diary from the supplemental reading list spurred two Washington residents--Sara Baker of Seattle and Jennifer Lott of Spokane, Wash.--to purchase more than 350 copies of the book from Rediscovered Books and, and have them distributed to Meridian high-school students. Their fundraising drive to buy copies of the book netted more than $3,000.

"We didn't expect this to be as big as it was. We thought there would be 25-30 books we'd realistically be able to send," Baker told Boise Weekly in April.

Pulling the book also attracted the attention of National Coalition Against Censorship, which decried the school board's move as de facto book banning to appease parents.

"In this case, you have school board officials who, notwithstanding the professional judgment of the educators of the district, decided to remove the book from the reading list. We feel that's a censorship issue," NCAC's Acacia O'Connor said at the time.

True Diary is one of the most frequently challenged books in America; it's also a winner of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature and the California Young Reader Medal.