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School board could have final say on 'Vietnam'

"POULSBO - When the Instructional Materials Committee of the North Kitsap School District decided in May to remove four controversial stories from an elective class, The Vietnam Experience, it did so believing the issue would end without reaching the North Kitsap School Board. But, the school board could end up reviewing the class after all. Several individuals, including one North Kitsap High School student, are asking the school board to review the issue. One of those individuals is Yvonne Saddler, the chairwoman of the Kitsap County American Civil Liberties Union. Another person asking for the review is Jessica Beckett, a student at NKHS who has enrolled in the Vietnam class for next year. Both appeared at Thursday night's school board meeting, speaking out in favor of restoring the class's excised content. Along with Donald Beckett, Jessica's father, they plan to draft a formal letter asking the school board to review the class. The school board can choose to re-open the issue or not (see information below). The class, a senior elective, was brought under review this spring after parent Susan Cleaver requested it. Cleaver objected to the graphic sex and violence in several of the passages of The Vietnam Reader, one of the textbooks. After a long, emotional discussion, the IMC reached a compromise between Cleaver and Tony Bressan, the class's teacher. The four most controversial stories would not be included, but would be available in the library. Saddler said she would like a new conversation about the class, if not an outright review. She has read the offending stories, and believes they should be restored. I really can't see anything that's going to surprise or send these kids reeling into a life of crime, she said. More than that, Saddler said, the students' rights are being infringed upon. The children, and all the members of the class, except for the student whose parent complained, are being deprived of the benefits of a full teaching of the class as the teacher designed it, she said. Saddler added, It bothers me to think that these kids are thought of as babies in their cradles, and can't be exposed to anything horrible. Saddler has also been in touch with the state ACLU about the case. Donald and Jessica Beckett both spoke at the school board meeting in favor of the class. Jessica, a senior, helped gather 200 signatures on a pro-class petition the day of the IAC meeting. She was not the only student collecting signatures. But those signatures - and the students' voices - need to count for me, she said. The impression I got was our opinion didn't matter, Beckett said. Although several students and community members wrote letters to the IAC, and the meeting was open for people who wanted to watch it, the only person allowed to speak at the final meeting was the parent who brought the materials under review. Beckett thinks the students, among others, need another chance to speak. And she will help them try to get it. This issue concerns us (the students) more than it concerns the people who were allowed to speak, she said. "

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