HUDSON — An investigation found no school board policies were violated in the selection and approval of a book used in a college credit writing class that prompted objections from a group of parents.
But, the probe also recommended the district take steps to retain more control of the materials offered in such courses.
At Monday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Phil Herman presented the findings of an investigation conducted by INCompliance Consulting into how the book, “642 Things To Write About” was selected and used in a College Credit Plus (CCP) writing course for high school seniors.
A group of parents attended the Sept. 13 board meeting to raise concerns about some sexually themed writing prompts in the “642 Things” book. It was at that same meeting that Mayor Craig Shubert demanded the school board resign or face criminal charges over what were later determined to be false allegations by the mayor of allowing child pornography into a college-level class.
More:Timeline of events in Hudson book controversy following mayor’s threat to charge school board
The district removed the book from the course and launched a review of how supplemental materials are selected for CCP classes. INCompliance, an affiliate of the Bricker & Eckler law firm, interviewed staff members of the Hudson school district and Hiram College.
How the book was used
In the CCP writing class offered to high school seniors, students had their own copy of the “642 Things” book. They used the book to write for 10 minutes several times a week. No specific prompts were assigned to them, they could write about anything they wanted, and they were not even required to use the book. Nothing the students wrote using the prompts was collected, shared, reviewed, or graded.
In a non-CCP service learning class that is also offered to seniors, a different teacher used the “642 Things” book as a personal resource and did not provide students with a copy of the book.
The teacher selected prompts from which the students could write, did not assign anything he felt was inappropriate, and did not share, review, discuss or grade the responses.
“We think this is perhaps how the book came to the attention of more students in that on Sept. 10, the teacher in the non-CCP course identified . . . two prompts that he deemed should not be used, but read them to the class and indicated that they would not be used,” Herman said during Monday’s presentation. “That drew attention to those prompts and then drew the concern.”
Herman added a parent on Sept. 10 emailed high school principal Brian Wilch to share concerns about the “642 Things” book. Discussion of the book spread in the community and more parents came forward with concerns.
Book approved by Hiram
The investigation found a Hudson teacher chose the “642 Things” book as a resource for the CCP writing course taught at the high school and the use of the material was approved by Hiram College. Though the college approved the use of the book, it did not require the use of the material in the class.
The teacher notified a Hudson school administrator about the book and the material was listed on a class syllabus given to the administrator. The book was not submitted to the Hudson School Board for approval nor did the administration independently review the book, but, it appears there was no such requirement for those actions to happen.
The school board policies on selecting and approving course materials “do not expressly state whether they apply to materials used in CCP classes offered at Hudson High School,” the investigation stated.
The investigation, therefore, determined it was a “reasonable interpretation” of the policies to conclude the books approved by Hiram for use in a CCP class at the high school do not have to be approved by the school board or district staff. This is why the probe concluded district staff did not violate policies on selecting and approving course materials.
The investigation also found district staff did not violate policies requiring that the mental and physical safety of students be protected and prohibiting activities considered abusive or sexually suggestive or ones involving illegal drugs, alcohol or tobacco.
For the CCP writing class, the probe noted that students must hand in a form signed by a parent/guardian indicating they understand the class may include mature content.
INCompliance Consulting recommended the district: revise board policies to retain control over its CCP offerings; require parental permission slips for all CCP classes; clarify the approval processes for materials used in classes; and ensure all district forms align with district policies.
If a teacher is responsible for choosing a material for a CCP class, INCompliance Consulting suggested the board require pre-approval of those materials through the district’s internal processes before submitting them to the college.
Herman said he will meet with teachers and administrators to discuss the next steps. He added he will work with administrators and board policy representatives to craft revisions to the policies and present the suggested changes to the board.
The plan is for the board to review the proposed changes during its next meeting on Dec. 13 and then vote on the new policies at its first meeting in January, according to board vice president Steve DiMauro.
Superintendent: Personal attacks on teacher ‘unacceptable’
Herman praised the teacher for following the current protocols on selecting materials and notifying the administration about the items.
“While I do not condone the use of the book because of the prompts it contained, I also learned that the teacher was upfront about the use of the book, submitting it to the district for purchase, and the college for approval, listing the book on every syllabus and every parent informational presentation,” Herman said.
He added, however, it was “unacceptable that this teacher and others have endured personal attacks over the use of this book. We have the strength of character in this community to work through challenges and differences together without resorting to vitriol and without resorting to threats.”
DiMauro said he shared parents’ concerns about some prompts being objectionable and noted the investigation uncovered gaps in the board’s policies that need to be addressed.
Board member Alisa Wright said she felt the district had to clarify its definitions of textbooks and supplementary materials to make sure all types of class resources are covered and a procedure exists for approving them for use in a class. She added she wanted the district to provide class materials and syllabi to parents in the spring prior to the upcoming school year starting in August. That way, families would have plenty of time to pull their children from a class if they had concerns about materials.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.