Part of the McMinn County Schools curriculum is no more after a recent unanimous vote of the school board.

On Jan. 10, the school board held a called meeting to discuss the 8th grade ELA (English language arts) curriculum and the focus became a graphic novel entitled “Maus.”

“Maus” is a novel about the Holocaust in which each group of people are depicted by different animals. According to MCS Director Lee Parkison, there are eight instances of bad language and one depiction of a nude woman.

Objections over those led to a motion from Board Member Jonathan Pierce.

“I move that we remove this book from the reading series and challenge our instructional staff to come with an alternative method of teaching the Holocaust,” Pierce said, with Board Member Mike Lowry giving a second.

After discussion, the eventual vote was a unanimous 10-0 in favor of removing it from the reading series.

On Thursday, the school board members released a statement about the decision.

“One of the most important roles of an elected board of education is to reflect the values of the community it serves,” the statement read. “The McMinn County Board of Education voted to remove the graphic novel ‘Maus’ from McMinn County Schools because of its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide. Taken as a whole, the board felt this work was simply too adult-oriented for use in our schools.”

Through the statement, they added that their concerns about “Maus” were not centered on its depiction of the Holocaust.

“We do not diminish the value of ‘Maus’ as an impactful and meaningful piece of literature, nor do we dispute the importance of teaching our children the historical and moral lessons and realities of the Holocaust,” it continued. “To the contrary, we have asked our administrators to find other works that accomplish the same educational goals in a more age-appropriate fashion. The atrocities of the Holocaust were shameful beyond description and we all have an obligation to ensure that younger generations learn of its horrors to ensure that such an event is never repeated. We simply do not believe that this work is an appropriate text for our students to study.”

During the meeting, Parkison explained that books included in curricula such as this are approved by a state committee.

“We have a textbook and instruction materials quality commission. This is who approves these curriculums for us,” Parkison told the board members during the meeting. “We have to adopt a curriculum that is approved by the state department. This curriculum was high on the list in the state department. They are responsible … for not necessarily vetting but they do determine age appropriateness.”

He added that after hearing concerns from board members, he and his staff chose to make what alterations they could to the objectionable portions of the book.

“I consulted with our attorney, Mr. Scott Bennett. After consulting with him, we decided the best way to fix or handle the language in this book was to redact it,” Parkison said. “Considering copyright, we decided to redact it to get rid of the eight curse words and the picture of the woman that was objected to.”

He added that the entire word could not be removed due to Bennett’s concerns over copyright laws, so all but the first letter was whited out.

However, the board members still chose to remove the book from the series.

Three days later, the board held its regular meeting and the topic came up again during Parkison’s director’s report. He attempted to get the members to expound on what exactly they found objectionable and how he should proceed with other books.

“I want to know and I need to know, were you specifically meaning the use of God’s name in vain or was it all of the curse words and the picture that was in that,” he asked.

Board Member Mike Cochran responded that “all of them” concerned him and he took issue with an early portion of the book that focused on the father telling his son about his sexual history.

“It normalizes this idea that sex before marriage is perfectly normal, it’s been happening for years and years,” Cochran said. “We don’t need to be encouraging that kind of activity — especially in 7th or 8th grade, or in high school either.”

To that, Parkison noted that there are other well-known books within the school system that have potentially objectionable language in them and asked what should be done about them, if anything.

“I do not approve of cuss words, period,” Parkison said. “I don’t want them in there — that’s why we made a way to get them out according to what our attorney said we could do. I have to have some guidance … I need to know what the standard is.”

During the discussion, Board Chair Sharon Brown explained that she requested the original meeting because of outside requests.

“The meeting was called because I was bombarded with messages from many people about the language in the book,” she said. “When I read that book, I was 100% in agreement with them. When I read the words (taking the Lord’s name in vain), that nailed the coffin for me. There’s no place for it — I don’t like the other words, but we’re talking about taking the Lord’s name in vain.”

That became a theme among the board members during the Jan. 13 meeting, that the portion taking the Lord’s name in vain was too much for them.

“I think when you start taking the Lord’s name in vain, that made a lot of people pay attention,” Lowry said.

“Using the Lord’s name in vain is what did it,” Board Vice Chair Quinten Howard noted.

Multiple members also stressed that this was a decision specifically about the book “Maus” and they did not intend it to stretch to other books or the entire curriculum.

“We never once voted on anything about throwing this curriculum out,” Pierce, who made the original motion, said before suggesting they “look for a replacement that could be used to teach about the Holocaust. I had heard previous versions of this same book did not have the rude words that I personally am opposed to.”

“There was no action on the table that night except for that book,” Board Member Rob Shamblin added.

However, one member of the board did take exception to the curriculum as a whole.

“My problem is with the curriculum,” Cochran said, adding that he has concerns about the political persuasion of those who created the curriculum due to references on their website to “social justice.”

“The problem is, you see it in their books,” he added.

During the meeting, Parkison reminded the board members that the system has a process in place to vet books in each curriculum and make accommodations if parents have problems with part of it.

“We would go through our process with parent complaints — I didn’t get one (regarding “Maus”),” Parkison noted. “We have a policy where they could complain and have something given to them differently.”

That caused some reconsideration from a pair of board members.

“Then we may have made a mistake having Monday night’s meeting,” Pierce said.

“The next time this comes up, it needs to be handled differently, I’ll admit that,” Shamblin added. “I regret we didn’t go through the protocol and procedures in place to at least go through a more thorough dialogue. Do we need to have another meeting? Absolutely.”

Parkison also stressed to the members of the board the positive reaction this curriculum has garnered from instructional coaches and officials from other systems who have implemented it.

“This curriculum is great,” he said. “This curriculum has turned other systems upside down. I could bring people here to tell you that they were a targeted school and they did nothing but adopt this curriculum … they have done nothing but climb.”

He said concerns over some perceived vulgar language have been addressed in those systems as well.

“I asked what they do when they get a complaint about cuss words in the book? ‘We white them out,’” he said. “It irritates me to no end when you have a movie, song or video — whatever you may watch — with cussing in there — there’s no sense in it. This book would’ve been OK without any cussing.”

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