Big Walnut BOE rules on book


SUNBURY — The Big Walnut Board of Education voted 4-2 to keep the book “Looking for Alaska” in the curriculum and libraries.

The book was challenged for being taught in a 10th grade honors English class at Big Walnut High School. Although “Looking for Alaska” is an award-winning novel for young adults and has been made into a movie, some have expressed concern for its themes, content and language. The students in the class have the option to choose a different book to read.

At the start of the school year, a parent challenged the book, as well as 22 others. The challenges prompted a committee of faculty and community members to review the book, and they found it to be appropriate to be taught and available in the library. Superintendent Ryan McLane recommended the board support the committee’s decision. However, there was an appeal after the decision had been announced.

Most of the five-hour-plus meeting, the board’s first of the new year, was devoted to “Looking for Alaska.” The meeting was held on Jan. 12 in the Big Walnut High School Auditorium.

A total of 23 people spoke during the comment portion of the meeting, including students, teachers and parents. After much discussion from the board, a compromise from Board President Doug Crowl was pitched: Instead of opting out of reading “Looking for Alaska,” another book would be the primary choice and students (with their parent’s permission) could opt-in to reading “Looking for Alaska.”

Voting in favor of the recommendation was board members Crowl (“with conditions,” he said), Sherri Dorsch, Sophia Erndt (student representative) and Steve Fujii. Voting against were board members Angela Graziosi and Alice Nicks.

Related to this action was the board’s passage of the suspension of the policy for reviewing educational materials that were challenged by a vote of 3-2-1. Two of the more than 20 books being challenged in the district have been reviewed by the committee, and both were deemed appropriate. Two other books were being reviewed. These first four books were being taught in the schools; the others were in libraries. Those first four books have taken precedence in being reviewed.

The second book reviewed by committee was “Speak.”

“Finally, the book review committee for ‘Speak’ met yesterday (Jan. 11),” Superintendent Ryan McLane said during his report, earlier in the meeting. “Currently, ‘Speak’ is located in the middle school library, high school library and is used as a curriculum resource in a high school English class. The committee’s decision and in my opinion was a very diverse committee, their decision was unanimous for the book to remain in all three of those locations …”

There was applause from the audience before McLane could resume speaking. When he did, McLane said he was in favor of the committee’s decision.

Crowl expressed dissatisfaction with the pace of the review process, and he suggested that the board take over deciding what to do with the remaining books, despite objections from Dorsch and Fujii.

Under business items, the board unanimously approved two funds (both are listed as they appeared on the agenda):

• American Pride fund: The purpose of this would be to accept donations leading to increased civic pride throughout Big Walnut Schools by purchasing, upgrading, and otherwise maintaining American Flags throughout the district.

• Special Purpose fund: The purpose of which would be to allow the superintendent a funding source of $50,000 from which he/she could allocate/expend resources for the general benefit of the school district without the Board of Education permission. Said fund would not be replenished without Board approval.

During the board comments portion of the meeting, Erndt said the high school has a new powerlifting club that plans to compete; and 10 students received first responders training and will meet monthly.

Fujii expressed gratitude for the reasonable board meeting schedule in 2023 and noted the state’s biennial budget will have a “Fair Funding Plan” for school districts that will divert funds from Big Walnut.

“Ultimately for the biennial budget, no one is coming to our support,” Fujii said. “The decisions made over the next calendar year by this board will have repercussions for decades in this district as you heard again from our treasurer. … We have to be very responsible with our dollars.”

Also at the meeting, the board unanimously approved revising the 2023/2024 district calendar to adjust from a three-day staggered start to a two-day (Wednesday-Thursday) staggered start, with all students attending Friday instead of Monday. This was due to feedback from students and parents.

Finally, it was said that the district’s weapons policies are still under review. There has been concern from some that the board will vote to permit teachers and staff to be armed.

The next board meeting is Feb. 16.

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