School board: Angelou book staying put

Published 12:52 pm Friday, April 30, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- A special subcommittee of the Niles Community Schools Board of Education released its recommendation to keep Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" in the Niles High School curriculum with the opportunity for concerned parents to have their children read alternate books.
Niles Community Schools superintendent Doug Law said the board was pleased with the reconsideration process and that this decision will be the final word on the issue.
Law said, in his written decision, according to school board policy, "No individual has the right to determine reading, viewing or listening matter for students other than his or her own children."
Connie Maglish, one of the concerned parents who wanted the book removed from curriculum, is not surprised with the decision.
She plans to pursue legal action against the district and will be removing her children from Niles schools, with the possible exception of her oldest son, who will be a senior next year.
A main issue with Maglish was the fact that she approached newspapers that would not publish scenes from the book because of issues of indecency.
The subcommittee, made up of board president Mary Crayton, board secretary Elaine Miller and board trustee Dana Daniels (who is recovering from surgery and was only able to participate through phone conversations), analyzed board policy before arriving at its final decision.
The major concern with the book was its graphic description of a molestation and rape.
The concerned parents thought the scenes were inappropriate for their 10th grade students.
According to the committee's report, board policy states "materials presenting sex and/or profanity shall be subject to a stern test of literary merit and reality by those making the selection, who also must take into consideration the age and maturity of their readers."
The committee concluded "I Know Why Why the Caged Bird Sings" does have literary merit. They cited the book is widely acclaimed as an excellent piece of literature by an author who is Poet Laureate of the United States.
The report also concluded that the autobiography presents life and circumstances in a realistic manner and that it is age appropriate for 10th graders.
The committee found evidence that the book is recommended to students in grades as low as eighth grade. They also noted numerous high schools in the area use the book, with one district that uses it in a middle school setting.
The concerned parents also had an issue with the level of parental knowledge of what their children are reading in school. They asked to be better informed and that some sort of rating system be developed for books.
The committee's report states they want "to reinforce and encourage the practice that all parents be given notice of the novels they will be read each semester."
They went on to suggest the parents be given resources, such as websites and copies of the books, so that they can become more familiar with the materials.
Parents are also encouraged to attend school open houses and parent conferences to ask questions and develop an open line of communication between home and school.
In regards to a rating system, the committee reviewed the possibility and concluded it that the development and implementation of such a system would be "extremely difficult, impractical and unnecessary."