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Hernando schools won't ban book

Judy Blume's Deenie will remain in elementary schools, available only on reserve. A parent objected to the content.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published February 19, 2004

BROOKSVILLE - The Judy Blume novel Deenie will remain in Hernando County elementary schools, despite recommendations from a review committee and the superintendent to remove it.

But to get the 31-year-old book, students will have to bring a note from home.

"I can't see denying its availability if some parents decide it's okay for their child to read," School Board vice chairman Jim Malcolm said. "Some people are offended by the content. Others aren't. I will defer to individual parent choice for their child."

The book came under scrutiny in October, when a Spring Hill Elementary School parent complained that the story about a seventh-grader included explicit references to masturbation. The mother argued that such content is "not appropriate, in any form," at an elementary school.

A committee at the school reviewed the book, with principal John DiRienzo proposing the solution that the School Board ultimately adopted Tuesday. But the complaint went to the district level, where a separate committee said the book was better suited for older students and recommended it be taken out of all elementary schools.

It was listed as part of the library collection at Spring Hill, Floyd, Westside and Chocachatti elementary schools.

Superintendent Wendy Tellone also recommended that the book should not be available to the district's youngest children.

Board members did not share that perspective.

Rather, they said that the novel might have value to students who face situations in life similar to those that the main character, Deenie, faced.

Deenie explores her sexuality as part of the novel, which deals primarily with the girl's changing attitude toward her parents, friends and people around her. Affecting her world view is her struggle to cope with curvature of the spine.

Some elementary school students have had such things happen in their lives, board members said.

At the same time, though, they were concerned that some of the content was not "age-appropriate" for many 8- and 9-year-olds. Placing the title on a reserve shelf was seen as a compromise, even as curriculum specialist Elaine Wooten stated that at least one media specialist advised against such a decision.

"I don't know that it's going to be that much of a problem to handle a reserve book section," board member John Druzbick said. "I would like to see if it would work rather than take it out of the elementary schools."

Board member Robert Wiggins agreed, noting that he did not want the district to appear on lists of book bans.

"It seems to me we're talking about one book so far, maybe two," Wiggins said, supporting the concept of a reserve shelf. "I don't see the difficulty in it."

Even if more books end up there, Malcolm said, the idea is better than a ban.

Deenie is No. 46 on the American Library Association's list of most frequently challenged books from 1990 through 2000. It did not appear among the top 10 challenged books of 2003. Topping the list was Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Alice series. The Harry Potter series was second.

School officials had hoped to have the Deenie challenge settled several months ago. But the district review committee was delayed after the Times sued to have the deliberations conducted publicly, and not privately as the district staff intended.

After legal wranglings, the board agreed to have the committee meet in the open. That session took place late last month.

Next, the board is expected to consider revising its challenged materials policy, to avoid future conflicts such as the one it had with the newspaper. So far, no changes to the policy have been presented.

- Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at 352 754-6115 or solochek@sptimes.com

[Last modified February 19, 2004, 02:00:25]


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