Site Council votes to approve list of supplemental materials as proposed by the English department


Elise Fisher

Principal Sloan presents the process of approval and opens Site Council discussion following public comments.

At the Oct. 12 Site Council meeting, the Site Council voted to approve a list of 150 supplemental materials that the English department would like to add to their curriculum with no deletions after postponing the vote from the Sept. 21 meeting. 

Site Council member and AP/IB US History teacher Brandon Dell’Orto made the motion to approve the entire list, which was seconded by Katie Farias. The list was approved with a 10-1 vote with a “nay” vote from Site Council member Steve Dolan. 

No written Board policy outlines or requires this process. The English department has not received any clear direction regarding the usage of the supplemental materials approved by the Site Council. 

At the meeting, 22 parents and 16 students spoke in favor of the Site Council approving all materials. Five parents spoke to ask that the Site Council not approve works from the list. 

After the public comment session, Bernadette Cranmer, English lead, gave a presentation on behalf of the English department about how materials are selected, and the Site Council was then given time to discuss and ask questions. 

In the weeks leading up to Oct. 12, students took to social media and put posters up on campus encouraging students to attend the meeting and voicing their concerns with parent comments about the supplemental materials. 

Soraya Johnson, a junior, posted an infographic on the Instagram page of her nonprofit, Unite, on Sept. 26 highlighting passages from the list of complaints made about the works.

Johnson said she made a post to make the information more accessible and visual for her followers. 

“It’s a right that’s fought for the freedom of expression, the right to read, and it’s a really important liberty that we have in the United States that we have to protect,” Johnson said. 

Charlie van der Veen, a junior, also posted Instagram stories with quotes from the list, as well as a link to the list. 

“I posted about this on social media because it’s a fast way to tell a large number of students about the situation. We deserve to be informed about our education, and potential changes to it,” van der Veen said.

Johnson and van der Veen were two of the 16 students that spoke. 

“Parents should not be allowed to pressure the school into compromising our education,” van der Veen said. 

Sela Sangwin, senior, also made an Instagram post and placed posters around the campus with the same quote and message: “Banning Books is Fascism.” Her posters were removed by GBHS administration days after they were posted, before the administration allowed them to be reposted days later.

Sangwin pointed out that a predominant number of disputed authors in the proposed list of materials are people of color, something Johnson displayed in infographics on Unite’s instagram page on Oct. 7. 

The infographics were created by RJUHSD District Librarian, Zenia K. Treto. They displayed the demographics of the authors in question. For poetry, 50% were African-American authors, for short stories 37.5% and for books 66.7%. 

Data also displayed that 3 out of 5 white male authors identify as LGBTQ+, with 29.4% of the works about racial issues, 21.6% about homosexuality. Other prevalent themes included sexuality, “anti-chrisitanity,” and “activism narratives” according to Treto’s data. 

“I want for our school to have a curriculum that fosters understanding and allows for the peaceful and thoughtful exchange of opinions, which is why I’m deeply concerned that the majority of the authors on this list are historically underrepresented, marginalized peoples,” Sangwin said. 

Frances Kassouni, senior, questioned the process being undertaken and asked that a process be publicly established by the Board before any decisions are made. 

“I also ask that before any government body moves to make a decision based on public comment by parents, it release a formal statement about the process by which it goes with determining something that materials approval are chosen and how and why the Site Council needs to be involved in the process at all,” Kassouni said to the Site Council.

Parents voiced similar concerns as students about removing any supplemental materials. 

Jillian McKinney was a former GBHS History and Ethnics Studies teacher, who left teaching last December after 14 years working at GBHS, in part due to the harassment she and her family faced last year. 

“There has never been a time, and I can list off many, where book banning was the precedent, it has always ended in the disintegration of human rights,” McKinney said. 

Melissa MacDonald, a Board member of the Eureka Union School district thanked the English department for including in their curriculum works that represent different viewpoints and encourage civil discourse. 

“The only way we’re going to come to the middle is to understand each other’s perspectives,” MacDonald said.

On the other side of the argument, five parents spoke to ask that the Site Council not approve works on the initial list. 

Comments they made before the Sept. 21 Site Council meeting were shared in a pdf. 

Parent Gina Williams said that she is only looking for balance in the curriculum, and brought up the Code Switch podcast from National Public Radio that was part of the proposed curriculum. 

Cranmer explained later that podcasts listed are usually for one episode, or even just part of an episode. 

The episode portion selected for AP Language was from one titled “”The Journey From ‘Colored’ To ‘Minorities’ To ‘People Of Color,’” but Williams pointed instead to a recent episode that she listened to about Florida Governor Ron Desantis flying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard.

To “balance” with Code Switch, a podcast that hosts conversations about race in the context of pop culture, history and politics with journalists of color, Williams suggested the story that was reported by Human Events Daily with Jack Posobiec to show a different perspective.

Human Events Daily features breaking news and analysis on current events by Jack Posobiec, who was found in an investigation by Southern Poverty Law Center to have “collaborated for years with white supremacists, neo-fascists and antisemites” in spreading propaganda. 

Another parent, Kimberly Crabtree, reiterated the message of wanting balance.

“The English department is representing themselves as educators that only want to teach from an oppressive, depressive, progressively ideological point of view,” Crabtree said. 

Regarding the proposal by Williams and Crabtree for a more balanced curriculum, GBHS senior Salini Pillai said “if this was about balance, we wouldn’t be talking about removing books from the curriculum, we would be talking about adding books to the curriculum.”

Dave Ortman, who has two children who attend GBHS, said that he doesn’t see the argument for balance based on the document comments, because many of the comments were homophobic.

Ortman said he read one criticized story, Life After High School, and saw only one mention that the characters were gay, three paragraphs from the end of the story. 

A commenter wrote that Life After High School, “pushes an LGBTQ ideology and narrative.”

“We have gay students, faculty, friends and family. These stories happen to have gay characters, that are problematic for you. It’s 2022. I’m sorry people are gay, it’s okay and that’s a problem you work for yourself,” said Ortman. 

Following public comments, Interim Principal Greg Sloan went over the three tier system for resources used by teachers that the District implemented last year. 

Tier two was written to include “additional supplemental materials, as recommended by departments to the School Site Council.”

Following the presentation of the three tier system, Cranmer presented a slideshow with the steps teachers take to selecting materials for classes. 

This included looking at Common Core State Standards and the seven descriptors of a literate person. The seven descriptors include constructive use of reading, writing, and speaking skills, strong content knowledge, ability to respond to varying demands of audience, comprehension, value for evidence, use of technology and understanding of perspectives and culture. 

Cranmer said that the department also looks to incorporate student choice whenever possible by providing a number of options, such as in a Literature Circle, where students can identify and explain literary features and rhetorical devices.

The department also makes selections based on development and training and resources IB and AP provides. IB recommended the use of Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston was recommended by College Board for AP Literature.

I’m not sure 100% if this is even, by state Ed Code, our legal prerogative in this process

— Brandon Dell'Orto

Works from lists of award winning authors and prescribed AP and IB readings are incorporated as well.

Finally, Cranmer outlined the pedagogical stance of the department.

 “We strive to provide our students with a range of texts that are rigorous, worthy of study, cover a range of genres, and appeal to the diverse community of Granite Bay High School. Through the works that we teach, students can develop the skills necessary to be critical thinkers and careful consumers of information,” the department wrote. 

Following the presentation, the Site Council members discussed their thoughts on the curriculum approval and public comments that were made. 

Dell’Orto questioned the role of the Site Council in voting to approve supplemental materials. 

“I’m not sure 100% if this is even, by state Ed Code, our legal prerogative in this process,” Dell’Orto said. 

Dell’Orto also expressed concern that review of materials could ultimately extend to all subjects. 

“I just think this is so microscopic like this, that I don’t think this can be sustained,” Dell’Orto said.

This discussion of how involved the community and parents should be in curriculum and in what books are available at school libraries is part of a larger, growing discussion across the country. 

Whether regarding the curriculum individual English teachers are selecting or books offered at the GBHS library, there is a recent push for more oversight of what students are reading.

Marla Franz is running on the platform that parents should have increased involvement in the decision making when it comes to curriculum in her campaign for reelection in the RJUHSD Board.

On Franz’s website under the issue of curriculum it states: “policies for assessing new coursework need to include parent input early on in the process to allow for adjustments.”

Before last year, English teachers were not required to have the supplemental materials they taught in class approved. 

According to RJUHSD Board President Scott Huber, the curriculum now needs to be reviewed by the Curriculum and Instruction Leadership Team, and then approved by the Board, though the GBHS English department has not received any directions as to when they may use these supplemental materials. 

To Sangwin, this means that the “book banning effort is not over.” Sangwin wrote in a post on Oct. 22 the date and time of the next District Board meeting, Oct. 27, and urged people to come.

The Oct. 27 Board meeting was canceled on Oct. 24.

Steve Dolan failed to respond to a request for public comment at the time of this article’s publishing.


Community involvement in a nationwide issue

The Banned Book Week Coalition, which is made up of a number of organizations including the American Library Association and PEN America, is working to keep curriculums and libraries free of censorship. 

Locally, the Granite Bay High School library hosted its own display for Banned Book week, Sept. 18-24 where historically disputed novels and works of nonfiction are displayed, such as The Hate U Give and To Kill a Mockingbird

A local organization, The American Council, a faith-based political activism group, is asking members of the community to write to the GBHS library about removing books from their shelves, including books approved last year by Site Council and the District. 

The American Council was founded by Tanner DiBella, the Marketing and Communications Director of Destiny Church, which has also been politically invested in the local community recently, as reported by Sac Bee. 

DiBella says that The American Council specifically looked for books on the Banned Books Week list to find books they want out of the GBHS library. 

A report released by PEN America found “2,532 instances of individual books being banned” defining book banning as “any action taken against a book based on its content and as a result of parent or community challenges, administrative decisions, or in response to direct or threatened action by lawmakers or other governmental officials, that leads to a previously accessible book  being either completely removed from availability to students, or where access to a book is restricted or diminished.” 

George Mason University Library found these efforts to be harmful to K-12 students and limiting their accessibility to learning resources, whether limiting in the student’s ability to read at levels or the content of other students their age or leaving them behind in their ability to develop perspective and understanding of diverse thinking.