The Daily Pulse:

KCS Revamps Parental Notification, But Not Enough to Make Conservatives Happy

If you have kids in Knox County Schools (or even if you don't), you might remember the not-really-a-controversy-except-for-like-six-people over last year's assigned summer reading, Robopocalypse, a book so popular Steven Spielberg is directing the film adaptation. (Next April, y'all.) Anyway, some parents were upset because the book used "f--k" a whole lot, because, you know, that's something high school students would never ever hear otherwise. At the time, Hardin Valley Academy decided to keep the book on its reading list, but one parent, Sam Lee, said he wasn't letting the matter go and would take it to the school board.

Well, tonight Lee kind of got his wish. Alas, it's really not what he and a group of other similarly-minded parents want at all. This evening the KCS Board approved, on first reading, a newly revised policy for the "Selection of Instructional Materials (Other than Textbooks)". There's a big difference between the new policy and the old one, last updated in 2008. The old policy states:

In order to assure that instructional materials are an integral part of the educational program, the following selection objectives are adopted: 

1. To provide materials that will enrich and support the curriculum and personal needs of the students, taking into consideration their varied interests, abilities and learning styles; 

2. To provide materials that will stimulate growth in factual knowledge, literary appreciation, aesthetic values and ethical standards; 

3. To provide a background of information which will enable students to make intelligent judgments in their daily lives; 

4. To provide materials on opposing sides of controversial issues so that the students may develop under guidance the practice of critical analysis; 

5. To provide materials which realistically represent our pluralistic society and reflect the 
contributions made by these groups and individuals to our American heritage; 

6. To place principles above personal opinion and reason above prejudice in the selection of materials of the highest quality in order to ensure a comprehensive media collection appropriate for all students.

The new policy, however, says: 

Teachers, school administrators, and instructional supervisors/specialists will work together to select appropriate high quality instructional materials. Such materials could include (but are not limited to) books, magazines, newspapers, journals, and video, audio, digital, and web resources.
Selection of instructional materials will be based on the criteria listed below and should be continuously re-evaluated in relation to changing curriculum content, pedagogical research, and the needs of students, teachers, and administrators.

All resources used during a course of study or in conjunction with school-wide activities will be openly disclosed to parents/guardians and other stakeholders sufficiently in advance of their use with students for parents to request an alternate assignment should they have a concern about the selected materials.Alternate assignments will receive the same level of instructional and assessment rigor as the primary assignment.

The Director of Schools will establish an administrative procedure for review and selection of materials subject to this policy as well as a procedure for the reconsideration of approved materials as may be requested by parents or staff members.


  • Educational purpose (as defined by the Common Core State Standards)
  • Contribution the subject matter makes to the curriculum and to the interests of the students
  • Appropriateness to social, emotional, and intellectual level of intended audience
  • Favorable reviews found in standard selection sources
  • Favorable recommendations based on preview and examination of materials by professional personnel
  • Reputation and significance of the author, producer, and publisher
  • Validity, currency, and appropriateness of the material
  • Contribution the materials makes to the breadth of representative viewpoints on controversial issues
  • High degree of potential user appeal
  • High artistic quality and/or literary style
  • Quality and variety of format
  • Value commensurate with cost and/or need
  • Timeliness or permanence

Leaving aside the fact that much of the selection criteria is nonsense--I mean, there are libraries of books dedicated to determining what "high artistic quality" may or may not be--the new policy also comes with a bevy of new procedures. It should be noted, this is only a draft and subject to change--the board only votes on the policy, and the administrative offices develop the procedures--but as written it would set up a new 11-member committee to approve all school-wide reading and instructional material, including movies shown in class, etc. 

There was also discussion in the board's work session yesterday as to whether the procedures should include a 30-day notification period for parents for all material used. Some teachers we talked to said that's just not practical; others said they already do send home a list at the beginning of the school year with every possible book or movie they might possibly use in class, giving parents plenty of time to opt for alternative material for their children. And according to one parent, permission slips for field trips and the like only get one-week notice, raising the questions as to why any kind of instructional material should be treated differently from any other.

However, all these new rules and regulations are not enough for Lee. He told the board tonight that the "policy and procedure need to have some kind of a bite"--i.e., teachers who show an unapproved movie should be subject to discipline. He also complained about the lack of a set time period for notification and questioned what the "prevailing community standards" would be to determine what is considered sensitive material.

What Lee would actually like to see KCS use is a parental content advisory form. You can download the entire thing at the bottom of this post, but we've screencapped a couple of sections so you'll get the idea.
Screen Shot 2013-04-04 at 3.23.43 PM.png
But really, this is our favorite section of the form.

Screen Shot 2013-04-04 at 3.33.17 PM.pngYes, those books with witches and fortune tellers in them - whoo boy! I mean, we wouldn't want our children exposed to Macbeth, by any means. Or The Wizard of Oz. And I'm pretty sure everyone smokes in The Great Gatsby. We imagine teachers with a certain sensibility could have a lot of fun filling these things out, but mostly, we suspect, they'd just be a giant pain in everyone's ass.

KCS doesn't, at this point, seem at all disposed to institute the forms. And, despite what some local bloggers would have you believe, KCS is not at all legally required to notify parents in advance of any content whatsoever, except for sexual education classes. (For future reference, Mr. Hornback and Mr. Lee, we direct you to the KCS website, where all policies and procedures are available to read in full.) We read the state law ourselves, then we double-checked with KCS, who confirmed it. Spokesperson Melissa Ogden says, "As a good practice, teachers have traditionally notified parents when their plans involve the use of instructional materials that might be considered controversial. The revised Instructional Materials policy is an effort to formally codify this practice."

At tonight's meeting, Superintendent Jim McIntyre did say he was "open to having an ongoing dialogue with interested stakeholders" as far as tweaking the procedures in place. However, the policy looks pretty set in stone: It passed unanimously, and seems likely to do so say when the school board next meets in May.


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