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Controversial novel added to Temecula high schools' reading list

September 16, 2009 |  3:03 pm

A novel that had raised concerns because its teen protagonist deals with the aftermath of rape will be added to the core literature list for Temecula's high schools, trustees decided this week. But school board members also decided to review later this year a district policy governing how parents may opt their children out of lessons and readings that deal with sensitive subjects.

The Temecula Unified School District board voted 4 to 1 on Tuesday to add “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson to the list of books that may be taught in high school English classes. The 1999 book is an award-winning, young adult bestseller that has faced challenges in schools elsewhere. The proposal first came before the board in August, but trustees delayed action after they heard a summary of the plot.

Trustee Kristi Rutz-Robbins cast the opposing vote, saying she feared that the book would become mandatory reading and that rape victims and others would be forced to read it. The district needs policies that alert parents to such assignments and ways to opt out of them, “so that rape victims, children who are emotionally and developmentally immature and those seriously interested in being prepared for college can stick to classics and other works without graphic rape scenes,” she wrote in an e-mail today.

Educators in the district have pointed out that other classic works commonly read in the community’s high schools, including Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” deal with sensitive subjects such as rape. Currently, parents may opt their children out of reading assignments or classroom discussions they are uncomfortable with by sending a letter to the teacher, who must then provide an alternative assignment. Trustees will review the policy this year.

-- Seema Mehta