TABIONA, Duchesne County A Duchesne County mother is calling for the firing of two teachers who said her daughter, a rape victim, is unqualified to object to reading an assigned novel that was later pulled from a class after parents complained about foul language and racy material.
School officials have taken no disciplinary action toward the teachers, but Duchesne County Schools Superintendent John Aland said the district will now move quickly to create lists of approved books and movies.
In the past, according to district media supervisor Diana Hanke, administrators "liked the idea of trusting teachers to make the right choices based on their students and the objectives for their class and things like that. For the most part it's worked out fine."
However, out of a class of eight college prep English students at Tabiona School, parents of two students contacted the Deseret News, saying they were shocked by material in a novel assigned by English teacher Glenda Norviel. The book, "My Sister's Keeper" by Jodi Picoult, contains profanities, sex scenes, dialogues mocking religious beliefs and directions for making a bomb.
"It's sort of a new concept in education now, that you meet children at their level," Norviel said. "A book that approaches kids, especially teenagers of course this book is not recommended for lower grades, but for 11th- and 12th-graders as they're ready to head out to adult life the philosophy is, if you can approach kids at their level, they will read and they will learn."
Norviel said she read the book and "couldn't put it down until after I was finished."
The book was brought to her attention during a 2007 summer seminar in Salt Lake City taught by a Texas-based education consultant, Danni Kay Scates, who said it was recommended by a nongovernmental organization called the Bureau of Education and Research.
Norviel acknowledged the book contains racy material, but that she had told students to ignore troubling elements. "I've instructed them if they encounter something, in reading or movies we watch, they should learn to skirt by those things without letting it ruin their day or do any negative things to them," Norviel said.
After one student shared concerns with her mother, the mother contacted Tabiona School and said she did not want her daughter forced to read the book.
The 16-year-old female is a rape victim whose attacker is serving a lengthy prison sentence. Her history became known to peers at Tabiona School partly because she became pregnant from the rape and gave birth to the baby in early January.
According to the student, Norviel embarrassed her in front of the class by suggesting that, instead of reading the book, she should write an essay about "getting pregnant and having a baby."
Norviel claims she was not so explicit and said that in private she suggested the girl write about "her experiences of the last year."
However, a day before the Deseret News learned of the student's allegations, Norviel raised the subject of the girl's background herself in a telephone interview. "And the daughter has supposedly been raped by the father of her baby. If she's been through all this, why can't she be allowed to read a little suggestive matter? I don't believe the issue is the book itself," Norviel said.
The student also said a substitute teacher, Gayla Hamilton, told classmates the identity of her rapist and recently pulled her into the gym for a one-on-one conversation, saying the girl had obviously "been around the block" and therefore should not object to the book's content.
When informed of the allegations on April 3, Tabiona School Principal Robert Park said, "That's not good."
One day later, learning that a second mother had objected to the book, Park collected copies of the books from Norviel's students. Under directions from Assistant Superintendent Jack Bell, Park also gathered statements from the female student, Norviel and Hamilton.
Park said Norviel acknowledged suggesting the student write about "her experiences of the past year." During a Monday meeting between Park, Hamilton, the mother and student, Park said Hamilton admitted identifying the girl's rapist against her wishes and suggesting to the girl that her sexual experience disqualified her from being offended by the book.
Park said he has spoken with his entire school's staff, warning them about discussing personal items or giving assignments that could invade students' privacy.
Aland said the book will not be assigned to students again unless it is approved by a review committee. So far the makeup of that committee is uncertain, but media supervisor Hanke said it might consist of teachers with literary backgrounds, administrators and possibly even students. Hanke said she is putting together a media review policy based on existing policies at the Davis and Jordan school districts.Aland said the new list would not be divided into materials appropriate for either primary or secondary students, so that teachers from all grades could draw from it. He said there will be a policy telling how teachers can apply to add materials to the list, and how anyone from the community can challenge materials on the list.