Board reaches decision on 'Vietnam'
June 10, 2008 · Updated 5:56 PM
"POULSBO - The North Kitsap School Board decided to back the decision made four months ago by the Instructional Materials Committee to remove four stories from The Vietnam Experience and allow the rest of the class to go on. But that doesn't mean the process that led to that decision will continue without changes. The board's meeting Thursday night looked similar to all the other meetings on the controversial North Kitsap High School class - packed. While school board meetings are usually not the hottest ticket in town, Thursday's meeting hosted a room filled with attentive, passionate observers. Several people spoke, with comments coming from all sides of the issue. Paula Ranney, the lawyer who represents Susan Cleaver (who made the original complaint), said the IMC's decision was valid, and should stand. It represents a true compromise and a lot of hard work on both sides of the issue ... this was a true compromise. We don't want the board to undermine the decision-making process. Yvonne Saddler, representing the American Civil Liberties Union, said, The fact remains that the material selected by a teacher was censored. The slow erosion of our Constitutional rights is taking place. American Legion member Ray Dupree, who helped set up last weekend's forum on the class (which includes fiction in the curriculum, said, I beseech you to seek out history, and the truth, and teach it as such. The board was deciding whether to hold more discussions on the subject. That request was made by Saddler and NKHS student Jessica Beckett, who believes she was denied her right to learn when the IMC's decision was made - and believes students were not represented in that process. Beckett, arriving straight from her 17th-birthday dinner, was the last speaker. It's hard for me to understand why someone would want to take a piece of my education away from me, Beckett said. She said, Purely from a moral standpoint, it's wrong to censor the materials in this book. Public comment lasted about a half hour. Then it was the board's turn. Board president Bethany McDonald started by saying, This is a sensitive and challenging issue for the board, and I'm impressed with the community for caring so much. It's an issue we're not going to all agree on. Board member Marie Hebert said that her reading of the controversial book, The Vietnam Reader, inclined her to side with the IMC. I thought [the book] was a little graphic, she said. I would not want my child reading it. I'm in favor of children learning about the Vietnam War. It's important. It's history. But I'm not in favor of the book. Helen Hoover believes that fiction has a place in history, but said she wasn't able to make a decision yet at that time. Catherine Ahl said whether one agreed with the decision or not was a moot point: the appeal by Saddler and Beckett had been filed outside the two-week window to appeal such decisions. We're here to discuss if the procedures were followed. They were. A hearing was held. A decision was made. Speaking to Beckett, she said, I've had to learn this lesson over the years, and it hurts a little bit. You want to change something, you almost change it, and you miss the deadline. But because we're a government agency, we have to follow rules. All board members agreed that the policies to find and review materials (including movies) should be tweaked to give the public more prior notice and more say in the process. Board superintendent Gene Medina is also in favor of making one committee that recommends material and another that reviews it (one committee now has both jobs), so the two can make suggestions back and forth. Board member Dick Endresen was in favor of making those changes and remanding the class back through the system after those changes had been made. I don't think the process was public enough, he said. I don't know how to decide. I don't have enough information. Endresen then drew angry response by saying, There really are no facts. If you don't see it yourself, how are you to proclaim it a fact for someone else? But all board members agreed to work with Medina that the procedures, and not the class itself, would be reviewed. I say, The End, Ahl said. That said, it may not be the end. The high schools staff still must decide what will happen to the class now that teacher Tony Bressan has taken a one-year leave of absence. And those on both sides of the issue will be paying attention. Susan Blaker, who spoke at the meeting for a Vietnam class that didn't include The Vietnam Reader, said If any part of this book is used .. if I have to, I'll end up in Olympia to keep the book out of there. And Beckett said she will remain a thorn in the school district's side to keep Bressan's class intact. Should the school board decide this is the end, I'll be at the next meeting, and the next meeting, and the next meeting, she said. Beckett even said she would try the court system if need be. I don't want to take it to the court, she said. But I feel strongly enough about it that I will. "