Parents protest current English curriculum content at recent Site Council meeting


Zoie Walker

In a new review process, parents are voicing concerns they have with GBHS English curriculum including novels “Slave Old Man” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

At the Granite Bay High School Site Council meeting on Sept. 21, a handful of parents spoke to ask the council members to remove 54 supplemental materials from the English curriculum, including books, poems and podcasts that are used in a variety of classes and activities. The Site Council concluded the meeting by postponing voting to the meeting on Oct. 12.

A list made by a group of parents was shared in the following days that outlined their concerns about the content of each work. 

Their ability to ask this from the GBHS Site Council is a result of a relatively new process that started last December.

Since last December the GBHS English department has had to get approval of their supplemental materials (books, articles, poems, podcast episodes, songs and television programs). Materials are now reviewed by Site Council, advised on by the Curriculum and Instruction Leadership Team (CILT) and finally voted on by the School Board. 

CILT, an RJUHSD committee not mandated by federal or state law, is an advisory board made up of parents selected by school principals, students, teachers and other administrators and counselors that discusses courses and textbook adoptions to make recommendations to the School Board. 

Site Council is a campus specific group of three elected students, three elected parents and four teachers. 

Scott Huber, RJUHSD Board president, cited Ed Code statutes 60400 and 60100 as to why he believes that the district needs to review and approve supplemental materials.

California Education Code 60400 says: The governing Board of each school district maintaining one or more high schools shall adopt instructional materials for use in the high schools under its control. 

60100 (h) defines instructional materials to be “all materials that are designed for use by pupils and their teachers as a learning resource and help pupils to acquire facts, skills, or opinions or to develop cognitive processes. Instructional materials may be printed or nonprinted, and may include textbooks, technology-based materials, other educational materials, and tests.”

“Reading these two statutes together, it would appear that California law requires instructional materials to be approved by the Board prior to their use in the classroom setting,”  Scott Huber, RJUHSD Board President, said.

Huber believes that the Board needs to review supplemental materials to be in compliance with Ed Code, though the Board has not yet included this in their written Board policy manual

“The District will be looking at our Board Policies to determine whether they comply with Education Code 60400. This may come up for a determination by the Board at some point, but to date the Board has not considered this issue,” Huber said. 

While this process has been going on since Dec. 2021, the Board has not yet discussed if it is necessary. Huber said that there has been a lot of confusion about the process as a result. 

Though RJUHSD may be able to require the review of supplemental materials, there is disagreement and uncertainty about whether it is necessary.

“There’s a difference between what you may be able to do versus what you have to do in the law,” Andy Sheehy, who serves as a Board member for Eureka Union School District, said.

Jennifer Leighton, Executive Director of Curriculum, said she believes that the district was in compliance, contradicting what Huber determined from Ed Code.

“We have met with Mr. Huber and confirmed that we are in compliance with Ed Code, as our textbook adoptions and core instructional materials are approved by the Board,” Leighton said. “RJUHSD has gone above and beyond typical practices and expectations by involving community and educational partners at multiple stages of the process, including school site councils and CILT.”

Last year, over 900 supplemental materials were approved for English teachers through this new process. The materials that are being reviewed this year are ones that were not on the list that teachers would like to add. 

“The aim was for us to be transparent about the materials that we’re using in the classroom, but we’d never (had this process) before,” Bernadette Cranmer, the IB Coordinator and Honors English 10 and IB HL-1 Literature and Language teacher said.

The list, which had 150 supplemental materials, was given to Site Council members five days prior to voting as has been done since December. Typically, the GBHS Site Council has previously been given five days to review the supplemental materials list provided by the English department. 

Chemene Phillips, a parent of a GBHS student, spoke to the Board on Sept. 22. after attending the Site Council meeting at GBHS the day before regarding her concerns with the amount of time Site Council has to look through the list of supplemental materials and themes within these works.

“There was no way any one human could have gotten through those materials,” Phillips said according to a video of the Board meeting. “Asking school Site Council members to approve materials without proper review time is unreasonable and could have a detrimental impact on our kids.”

Phillips said that she and 22 other parents took those five days to review the materials and have four pages of comments on the items. The list made by these 23 parents commented on 54 works, and each comment was initialed by the parent who made it.

Parents want to trust our teachers and schools with what they are asking our kids to read. Rape, suicide, violent themes does not build trust. Our schools need to do better.

— Christina Munoz

On the short story, “Life after High School,” a parent wrote: “After rejection from both the girl and his best friend, he sees suicide as the only option. This is NOT something I want my child reading, nor is it appropriate. It pushes an LGBTQ ideology and narrative and glorifies suicide as the only option to rejection.”

“I can’t imagine a student that is contemplating suicide sitting in a class learning about something like that,” Phillips said. “It is not the school’s job to teach my child about rape, murder or abortion and dark themes or indoctrinate them with gender ideology, Marxism and racism.” 

Cranmer said she is receptive to parent concerns or questions about the works she uses in class. She said she had a parent ask once that their student not read a book she assigned, Lord of the Flies, because the student had read the novel in 8th grade. 

“I changed my curriculum,” Cranmer said.

At the beginning of the semester, Cranmer provides a syllabus that parents must read and sign, with all of the works her students will be reading, as a way for parents to bring up any concerns they may have at the beginning of the year. 

“We’re choosing works because we feel that those are the best vehicles through which to teach the rhetorical strategies or the literary devices,” Cranmer said.

Cranmer also gives her students choices whenever possible, for example providing four op-ed writers for her IB Literature and Language class of juniors to choose from. 

“All too often there’s this jump that’s happening. Instead of having a conversation with the teacher about what’s going on and why it’s going on, it’s going straight to something like Site Council where maybe they’re making assumptions,” Cranmer said.

Phillips said that academic rigor and grade level reading should be brought up more in this conversation. 

“Several teachers are more concerned with indoctrination over education and they are not interested in preparing our kids to be college and career ready,” Phillips said. 

Cranmer and David Tastor, English department head, outlined that supplemental materials are chosen based on what the class needs to prepare for the AP or IB exam associated with those classes, or what is best to teach the literary devices and communication skills students are expected to learn. 

“The important thing is rather than to assume that we’re trying to indoctrinate that (the Site Council/parents) understand the context for which the piece of literature is being used and how it’s being used in the classroom. That’s not being done,” Tastor said.

Tastor also explained that his curriculum is available on Google Classroom for parents to see every work that their child will read in his class.

“Our kids are incredibly bright, and they’re incredibly thoughtful, and they’re on social media all day, whether or not it gets brought up in the classroom,” Tastor said. “They already have opinions on these things. So for us to diminish their intelligence by keeping things away from them to me personally, as a parent and as a teacher, is a problem.”

Christina Munoz, a parent who serves on the West Park High School Site Council, spoke at the Board meeting with a similar message about the book Kindred by Octavia E. Butler, which was on the approval request of the West Park High School English department. 

“With less than 24 hours to review the book and vote, I found pages that provided scenes of extreme violence, attempted suicide and an underlying theme of rape throughout the book,” Munoz said to the Board. 

Kindred is available district-wide in school libraries, and was on the list as a book to be offered in class as optional reading. 

“Parents want to trust our teachers and schools with what they are asking our kids to read. Rape, suicide, violent themes does not build trust. Our schools need to do better,” Munoz said.

Tastor and Cranmer are considering reading Slave Old Man with the juniors or seniors in IB Literature and Language next year, which was called “a dumb book” by one of the commentors in the document the 23 parents made. 

“It’s literally just more of the white man bad; black slavery story,” one parent wrote. 

Tastor said he is considering Slave Old Man, which is about French colonialism and a slave on the island of Martinique trying to escape, because it is a translated work which was a collaboration between the French author and a translator. Study of literature in translation is a requirement of the IB English Language and Literature curriculum. 

“Read the text first to understand its totality as a piece of translation before there’s an assumption,” Tastor said. 

Tastor mentioned Romeo and Juliet as a book that one of the parents did not have a problem with, because it is an “age old story.”

“I agree it is an age old story but the opening scene speaks of rape,” Tastor said.

Tastor said when conversations come up about this part of Romeo and Juliet or another political scene, such as when Romeo mentions that there are no laws to protect the poor, students start them. 

“We address it because we have to,” Tastor said.

Huber is looking to other California Boards and the teachers’ union as the RJUHSD Board clarifies this new approval process. 

“I hope when the English curriculum comes to the Board, you guys will take the time to review it because I can tell you that what we found and what was being proposed in some of the materials was absolutely dumbfounding,” Phillips said to the Board. 

Chemene Phillips and one other parent declined to comment. Christina Munoz and GBHS Principal Sloan did not respond at the time of this article’s publishing.

10/11 Update: David Tastor has not yet read “Slave Old Man” with his IB Literature and Language IB senior class. The orignial was mistaken in saying he had previously read this novel with his class.