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The 'd' word puts a kids' book on the hot seat
By MIKE HALLIDAY
Betty Taylor and her daughter raise her grandson, 9, together. Both are offended and shocked a book the lad was assigned to read has the word "damn" in it.
Taylor doesn't allow her grandson to cuss, and she said having the word in the book which she otherwise thought was encourages kids to swear and "pollutes their minds."
She is appealing to the Federal Way School Board next Monday to remove "Number the Stars" by Lois Lowry from the fourth-grade reading list.
Late in the spring of 2004, the district was embroiled in a book controversy when a mother objected to a book being read by her freshman son. Superintendent Tom Murphy reviewed the book and agreed to removed it from the night grade reading list, but it stayed on the reading lists of higher grades.
The book "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" was objected to because of graphic sexual descriptions.
Since then, Taylor's appeal has been the only one filed with the district, according to Mark Jewell, the district's curriculum head.
At a meeting on Aug. 11, the School Board gave Taylor the option to either make her appeal then or meet in September to give her more time to prepare and gather other people to support her cause.
Taylor helps her grandson, a Lake Dollof student, with his homework and near the end of the 2004-2005 school year, he was assigned "Number the Stars" by his teacher, Darryl Podolak. She came across the word she objects to in the second to last chapter of the book.
"I was in shock," she said.
The books is about two girls living in Copenhagen, Denmark during World War II. One of the girls is Jewish, and she and her family are hidden by the other girl and her family.
The offending word is in one paragraph during a scene where the characters are talking about escaping narrowly from search dogs:
"Uncle Henrik nodded. "The dogs are trained to sniff about and find where people are hidden. It happened just yesterday on two boats. Those damn dogs, they go right through dead fish to the human scent."
Taylor called Podolak and expressed her concern. According to her, Polodak said he read the book 20 times, but hadn't thought about the word being offensive. Lake Dollof's principal, Kay Milsen, also talked to Taylor, but the book wasn't pulled from the classroom.
Taylor then turned to the district's administration.
"I wasn't getting what I needed," she said.
A district administrator explained the process for appealing the book and filling out the requisite paperwork. Taylor's case went to the Instructional Materials Review Committee for consideration.
The review committee hears all appeals of books in the district and each year recommends a list of books for the School Board to review. That list is several pages long and covers every grade. Parents and guardians also get a copy of the list and can opt their children out of any book teachers assign. The district is required to supply an alternative.
But Taylor said the school year was almost over and the book assignment was nearly complete when she discovered the word. She didn't want to her grandson's grade to suffer by asking for a different book.
The review committee met with Taylor on June 17 and after hearing her case and asking questions - unanimously rejected it.
Taylor appealed to the School Board.
Charles Hoff, president of the board, said the meeting was postponed to September so Taylor could gather supporters and put together a presentation. When she met with the School Board Thursday night, Taylor told the elected officials she didn't think she could bring anybody with her. The School Board explained she could and asked if that is what she wanted to do.
Taylor said she felt like some board members were supportive of her case and having more people backing her up would give the case better credibility.
The appeal is at 6 p.m., Sept. 12 at Mirror Lake Elementary School, 625 S. 314th St.
Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, firstname.lastname@example.org