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Shelley Evans-Marshall was teaching ninth-grade at Tippecanoe High School in 2001 when she asked her students to select a book from the American Library Association’s list of the 100 “most challenged books in the United States.”
Many students chose “Heather Has Two Mommies,” by Leslea Newman. It is a children’s novel that talks about families with stepparents, single-parents and same-sex couples. She also assigned Hermann Hesse’s “Siddhartha,” the classic novel that has themes of spirituality, Buddhism, romantic relationships and personal growth.
Though "Siddhartha" was already on the approved reading list, parent’s objected to their children reading the novel, as well as "Heather Has Two Mommies," at a school board meeting. Evans-Marshall spoke out against the controversy and her relationship with the principal became tense. The principal recommended not to renew her contract and the school board agreed with “refuse to communicate with the administration and refused to be a team player” as the reason.
Evans-Marshall filed a lawsuit saying the non-renewal violated her First Amendment rights, since she believes her contract was terminated due to her unconventional reading choices. Last week in Ohio, the judge ruled in favor of the school board, stating it is doubted that the First Amendment even applies to a public school teacher’s decision on reading assignments (due to 2006 Supreme Court decision, Garcetti v. Ceballos).
Though this is an issue of academic freedom, it speaks volumes for how some parents and educators feel about their children learning about same-sex couples, single-parent and stepparent headed homes and non-Western religions and ideas. As a parent, how do you feel about Evans-Marshall’s reading selection for a ninth-grade class? Would you want to encourage or discourage your children from reading these kinds of novels? [Gay City News]