Did you just wake up from a coma and are all like, "OMGEE, there's something about books happening in the school district, but like, WUT?!?!"
It's a lot. I get it. If you haven't been actively keeping up since June (there's a lot with this issue to unpack), so you probably have no idea what in the what is going on, nor do you know where to start.
Or you're a puppet, who is simply regurgitating phrases in mom groups from Mike Dunn without having actually attended any board meetings, nor read the books in question.
It's ok. I got you, boo! Let's dive into a timeline, shall we?
In June, we (at least the general public) first heard about the request from the English Dept. for "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," by Sherman Alexie to be added to the curriculum. The book had been submitted and reviewed by our district's curriculum committee (comprised of credentialed teachers and experts in their respective fields) and approved, to then be submitted and approved by the board.
CUE: Former board president, but current board trustee Mike Dunn, selectively picking a quote: "kicked him in the balls," to feign outrage over the book, and imply his moral dilemma about not wanting his kids to read a book with such language! (BTW... his children are adults). Naturally, Mike Dunn did this for a very calculated reason. By publicly objecting to this book at the board meeting, he was able to indirectly rally his followers to flood the board with emails opposing this book (as well as other books currently in the curriculum, like "Snow Falling on Cedars.")
The board decided to push the vote back to approve this book under the explanation that they wanted to provide board members ample opportunity to read the book for themselves so they could make an informed decision. Wonderful. A board president elected by church money, who ran on a campaign of " traditional family morals" and has, in writing, declared he cares more about his eternal damnation than his obligation to fulfill his role as a school board trustee, and who DIDN'T read the book, is going to vote as to whether we should value the review process performed by our credentialed teachers, who are trained to do just this... evaluate literature and curriculum needs. Well, he along with a few of his other right-leaning board members who currently hold the majority on the board, anyway. I would like to repeat: DUNN NEVER READ THE BOOK IN ENTIRETY.
LATER IN JUNE:
Public notices that the book is not discussed at the follow-up board meeting. It's absent from the agenda. Public emails board requesting it be added to the agenda for approval and are told you have to submit a request two weeks prior to a meeting for it to be under consideration. So... that means, discussion and/or potential vote on book won't happen until mid-August. This is cutting it close, as for teachers who want to teach it in the Fall semester, this leaves little to no time for the book to be ordered, processed through the school system, and for teachers to add to their lesson plans under uncertainty.
**Around this time, "book ban" phrasing was used by those weary of the board's actions. I've spoken in great length on this, but, for clarity, let's discuss why that phrasing was being used. You may say: but, it's not being banned from the library? This is not a book ban in a traditional sense, so let's dig deeper. If the board were to successfully delay the vote long enough, teachers who wished would not be able to teach it in their classrooms for the fall semester, essentially indirectly banning the book from the classroom. Withholding the vote was strategic for the board, who could argue that they hadn't banned the book, but inaction can be just as dangerous as bad action regarding literature curriculum decisions. By first not adding the book back to the agenda in June, and only adding it to the agenda after public outrage, there was the very real concern that even if the vote was in favor of the book in late summer, it would be too late for the students whose English took place during Fall semester.**
It's a shit show at the board meeting. See, in the time that passed between board meetings, Dunn and his supporters spent ample time passing around out-of-context passages from ANOTHER book (Snow Falling on Cedars), pretending these passages were from "Part-Time Indian." The passages, sexual in content, were heavily objected to by the conservative parenting community, who coined phrases like "salacious," and like, puppets, repeated Mr. Dunn's assertions that the passages equated to child abuse and pornography. Many had never read either book, obviously. Aside from the fact that it's damaging and ignorant to take passages out of context, from any book, to form an argument, these passages weren't even from the book they were painting as inappropriate and was up for discussion. Why? Because there's actually nothing in "Part-Time Indian" that's really that controversial, especially when you consider it's for 9th grade English. I mean, there's a paragraph about how a teenage boy likes to masturbate, but is that all that shocking? It also contains some verbiage of frustration geared toward Christianity, and it's written by a non-white author... which methinks is really why they doth protest so much.
The board did its best to paint this issue as them supporting parent choice. We'll learn later that that is all a facade for public show. I mean, I knew it then, as did others... but those naive to the board, naive to the book, and naive to the way the world actually works, ate it up. This has nothing to do with parent choice and everything to do with a conservative leaning board implementing an agenda that censors curriculum. (This isn't the first time we've experienced these actions through Dunn, and new board member Sandee Everett.) One need only research the outrage they raised over the NPHS Panther Prowler's sex article (a picture of a condom on a banana was just too much!), or their attempts to control the implementation of the FAIR Act (which updates curriculum to include diverse individuals including African Americans, LGTBQ individuals and those with handicaps whose contributions to history had been omitted because of their race, sexual orientation or handicap previously).
So, it's no surprise that Dunn (who famously threw down over a phrase in a health book that used the word "partner" as opposed to "man and woman") was going to do everything in his power to deter a book about a brown, non-Christian boy from being added to the curriculum.
After a 5-hour meeting, the book was eventually approved, under the condition (from board member Andersen) that an alternative assignment policy be created and formalized. Dunn still voted against the book, but the 4-1 majority passed it. (My theory, and I'm not alone) is that the board majority always planned on using this book as an excuse to create a formal alternative assignment policy. It should be noted that CVUSD has always worked with parents on an individual basis regarding alternative assignments. Additionally, it's important to note that the right to opt out is not guaranteed by the state of California. There are only three occasions on which parents are guaranteed the right to opt out, by law, which include HIV/AIDS awareness & prevention materials, Sex-ed materials, and opt-in surveys. ANYWAY, Board member Phelps stated in the entire time she's been on the board, they have never received a formal complaint about the process. That doesn't mean it was, by any means, a perfect process. However, do we need to create an entirely new policy, especially under the control of a board that has demonstrated questionable choices regarding curriculum?
The board moves swiftly on creating an alternative assignment policy. Like they are steamrolling through this. And I want to be clear here: the objective of this policy was to formalize procedure and language specifically for how to request an alternative assignment. That's all. To address this, the board voted upon and agreed upon the following process:
A Superintendent's committee comprised of teachers and administrators, including Bob Iezza (then Superintendent of Instruction) and Dr. Boone (Curriculum Director) would meet and draft a policy regarding the above-mentioned objective, and work with an ad hoc committee compromised of board members Sandee Everett and Pat Phelps. The ad hoc committee would provide guidance and oversight on the Superintendent's Committee. Collectively, they would work together to submit a policy to the board for approval.
GUESS WHAT. THAT DIDN'T HAPPEN.
What happened: Board member Sandee Everett read the policy from the Superintendent's Committee and didn't like it, so (as Dunn suggested she do at the prior board meeting), she took it upon herself to write her own policy. Sure, she used parts from the Superintendent's Committee draft, but, she basically undermined their efforts and wrote her own policy. AND GUESS WHAT. That was the ONLY policy that the board presented for discussion and vote. Then-board president Mike Dunn REFUSED to allow the Superintendent's Committee's policy to be added to the agenda for discussion and review. He then lied and said it was never officially submitted to him, at which time board member Dr. Connolly came with receipts, and released her email formally requesting that the committee's policy be added to the agenda. Dunn lied? COLOR ME SHOCKED.
WORTH MENTIONING: during these past few meetings, Conejo Valley residents may have noticed a fuller board room... full of non-resident activists from far-right political groups showed up in mass number to speak out in favor of Everett's policy, arguing parent choice/rights, and feigning outrage over "salacious" content. (You can tell they all got together and agreed this was the word to beat a dead horse with). So salacious, they read passages out loud during board meetings as though we hadn't heard worse from our current president and his pussy-grabbing remarks. PUHLEASE. It is also worth mentioning that these activists wrote hit pieces against teachers in the CVUSD, publicly insulted them during their comments at board meetings, and flipped off and heckled students in the district who turned up to support teachers and oppose the policy as presented by Sandee Everett. The board did NOTHING to protect our students and teachers. In fact, when one teacher spoke out against these actions, board member Andersen chastised her indirectly, with a statement to the room saying a line had been crossed. I guess it's ok to attack our teachers and students, but not to question the motives of political activists that align with Andersen/Dunn/Everett. NOTED.
NOW, and this is important. Remember the approval of "Part-Time Indian?" Well, we got word from a slew of teachers that they were informally told that the district was not going to fund the purchase for PTI. This resulted in parents coming together to launch a fundraising campaign for our local high school English Depts. to purchase the book. Now, after a day, we raised nearly $2,000 for the book. Suddenly the district releases a statement saying they were going to order the book, but hadn't received any "formal" requests for the book. Hmmmmm. I guess there's a discussion to be had about what the actual process is for requesting a book, as there seems to be some confusion on that process, depending on who you talk to. However, they got their statement in the Acorn article that went out... the book had been ordered.
BUT... and this is where it gets fun! Did you know that an order technically has to be approved by the board first? YUP. Even though an order was placed, until the expenditure/P.O. for the book was voted on and approved by the board, it could be pulled at any time. Remember this because we'll be revisiting it.
SO BACK TO EVERETT'S POLICY.
We were all treated to a powerpoint presentation by Everett on her policy, which took up so much time, that she was then able to vote against and deny the opportunity for multiple students and speakers to speak about the policy at the meeting. That actually happened. She spoke in length at the beginning of the meeting defending her policy. Then had the speaking time cut from 3 to 2 minutes per speaker. Then, when it got late, she voted to close time for speakers (a lot of them students) who had stood for SIX HOURS waiting to speak, so she could then speak again on her policy and defend it. She then voted to extend the meeting to give herself additional time to speak on it, as well as read testimonials from parents that supported her policy.
I am so serious.
And, all this happened with board member Phelps and Dr. Connolly pleading with the board to allow an additional discussion policy on a sloppy policy. Then-president Dunn refused, and put the policy on the agenda for the next meeting as an action item, to be voted on, full-well knowing that board member Pat Phelps would not be present for the vote.
In a last-ditch effort, board trustee Dr. Connolly wrote up a policy and submitted it immediately following the meeting, BUT, Dunn refused to put it on the agenda for the next meeting, and instead said he would put it on the agenda for the meeting AFTER the vote. So... yeah.
LATER IN NOVEMBER:
As expected, the board majority didn't give two shits in listening to the public outcry over this policy, WHICH, also had verbiage regarding the curriculum selection review process... A TWO-FOR-ONE you say? See, it wasn't just an alternative assignment policy. Now, it was an alternative assignment policy AND a policy that created new language and procedure for the actual selection and approval of literature... which included adding a PARENT COMMITTEE to have equal representation and involvement in our district's curriculum. (REMEMBER THIS LAST PART BECAUSE WE WILL BE REVISITING AS WELL!)
The board voted and approved the policy 3-1 (Phelps absent to vote against, Dr. Connolly the one dissenting vote). Nowwwwwwww, remember when I said to remember my whole bit about the purchase order for "Part-Time Indian?" SO, at the very beginning of this meeting, BEFORE THE VOTE, the very first action Dunn took was to remove the agenda item for approval of the purchase order. You may not have noticed if you weren't aware what this item was. THEN, after the vote went in Dunn's favor, do you know what the first thing he did was? He immediately added it back to the agenda and allowed for a vote. ONLY THEN did the board vote to actually approve the book be purchased. Dunn and Co. literally held the book hostage until they got their much beloved policy pushed through.
I'm telling you... this has been orchestrated FROM THE JUMP.
Sandee Everett's policy required that syllabi include asterisks next to books the California Dept. of Education labeled as "mature." When a resident reached out to the CDE regarding this, the CDE was appalled that these annotations were being used to potentially label books in a controversial manner and said they would consider pulling such annotations from their website for the way they were being abused in this situation. Seriously. In addition to essentially labeling books as "bad", warning language was to be included in syllabi as well. On the surface, you may feel that there's nothing wrong with these, as parents should be informed about what their children are reading. However, for some parents, warning language and asterisks may be enough to scare them off from literature, without really evaluating the warning in context... leading to more opt-outs. The policy also GUARANTEED the right to opt out, instead of outlining a procedure to request opting out.
And what is the problem with opt-outs? I've discussed this in length as well. With an advertised and boasted GUARANTEED right to opt-out policy, opt outs will increase. And when teachers start receiving multiple opt-out requests (and I'm sure they will--- a parent as recently as yesterday boasted in a mom group that she and her friends would certainly be taking advantage of this policy) --- it will make it difficult for teachers to continue teaching that text. When a teacher feels intimidated by teaching a text, it is not a baseless concern that a teacher will opt for what may be considered by some as a less "controversial" literature selection. Aren't convinced this would happen? It most certainly almost did just this past week. There are a lot of rumors floating around about about "Night" being "pulled" from curriculum. Per the district, it has not been pulled. I can confirm it is being taught. I can also confirm that per MULTIPLE teachers (as well as meeting notes), at an articulation committee meeting earlier this month, a teacher expressed concern over receiving multiple opt-out request for "Night" and suggested she would opt not to teach it. She was apparently persuaded otherwise after the meeting. The district was able to confirm one "official" opt-out request for that text. AND, this was middle school. Teachers I spoke to in the district have never heard of anyone ever opting out of "Night." Talk about a swift trickle-down effect.
The policy is still be worked on as we speak. And it's also being hastily implemented which has caused much chaos and confusion for teachers, as you can imagine, who, from what I heard, are being required to take mandatory training on the policy, which will go into effect this week. Alternative lesson plans haven't even been derived for those who choose the alternative assignment option by the way.
ADDITIONALLY.... remember that "PARENT COMMITTEE" that was to be created as part of the curriculum selection and review process? Cuz, you know, the board is all about "parent choice." IT'S NOT EVEN GOING TO BE A COMMITTEE COMPRISED JUST OF PARENTS. And, to boot, it's not a blind pick. The board majority voted to allow themselves to pick the members that will make up this committee: read: THEIR FRIENDS THAT ALIGN WITH THEIR AGENDA. Board trustee Mike Dunn even stated that he had a friend who had been begging him for years to be on a committee and that he would consider him for this committee because he has a PHD. So... now, just so we're all clear: this curriculum committee will be weighted by friends of the board majority and will have a say in our curriculum. So much for that whole "parent choice" angle, amirite?
SO, that's the latest.
In an effort to continue to voice opposition to the policy (the petition sent to board trustee Andersen that more than 3,000 community members signed wasn't enough apparently), high school parents have launched a civil disobedience campaign:
CONEJO VALLEY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT HIGH SCHOOL PARENTS – PLEASE SHARE VIA SOCIAL MEDIA & EMAIL!
The extremist Conejo Valley USD school board majority is implementing its divisive “opt-out” policy for the English curriculum during the week of January 23. Please don’t participate in this policy!
The board is requiring teachers to send home a syllabus or other document featuring language warning parents if they plan to teach what some board members consider “indecent” literary works.
We will be instructed to sign and return this document. But PLEASE NOTE that refusing to do so will have NO EFFECT on your student’s education. “We are not going to demand that we have a signature,” board member Sandee Everett said before the policy was approved.
This new policy disrespects our teachers and harms our students! It encourages you to doubt the judgment of professional educators, and it is likely to result in teachers having to make hard choices about whether they’ll continue to use important books in the curriculum – classic novels like “The Catcher in the Rye,” “The Kite Runner,” and “Beloved.”
THERE’S ONE WAY WE ALL CAN FIGHT THIS EXTREMIST POLICY: CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE!
1. Please DO NOT SIGN OR RETURN any revised syllabus/document featuring parental warnings to your student’s English teacher!
2. Instead, send it to board member Sandee Everett (who wrote the policy) at this address: Sandee Everett, Trustee, CVUSD, 1400 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362.
3. Write in the document’s margins that you DO NOT APPROVE of an opt-out policy that distrusts our teachers and leads to censorship in our schools.
4. Or, shred the document before mailing!
5. SHARE your act of civil disobedience on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat, with the hashtags #NoCVUSDcensorship, #SendItToSandee and #TearItUp!
6. And PLEASE COPY & SHARE this request with every CVUSD high school parent you know! THANK YOU!!!
RELEVANT BACKGROUND LINKS:
“If Anything Needs Warning Label, It’s This School Board,” Thousand Oaks Acorn, Nov. 9, 2017: https://www.toacorn.com/…/if-anything-needs-warning-label-…/
“School Board Ignores ‘The Conejo Way,’” Ventura County Star, Nov. 11, 2017: http://www.vcstar.com/…/editorial-school-board-i…/854390001/
“You can do anything you want…”, Anonymous Mommy blog, Nov. 14, 2017: http://www.anonymousmommy.com/blog/november-14th-2017
"Miss me with that "Let Parents Parent Nonsense": http://www.anonymousmommy.com/blog/miss-me-with-that-let-parents-parent-nonsense
Sandee's Everett's first proposed policy draft: https://www.boarddocs.com/ca/conejo/Board.nsf/files/ASS2DE01A996/$file/Amended%20Board%20Policy%206161.1.pdf
Scroll back on my blog and you'll find at least five pieces I've written on this over the past few months.
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO????
VOTE THIS NOVEMBER. Both Mike Dunn and Jon Andersen's seats are up for re-election. Additionally, so is Pat Phelps' (who hasn't expressed officially whether she will run again), which could potentially leave one open seat.