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School board member chides charter for book choice

Ohanian Comment: First, this Nashville charter assigns a book inppropriate to the age of the students; then they rewrite the sexy parts. And the reporter doesn't have a clue about Lexile. It does not evaluate "content" but only counts syllables. In its system, Beatrix Potter and William Faulkner are both rated grade 4.

I would hope the Penguin Group, holders of the book's copyright would have something to say about school officials rewriting the book--and distributing photocopies instead of buying it.

Nashville schoolboard member Amy Frogge's comments are worth reading. She gives a bigger picture of the abusive practices of this school Here is a summary of the discipline policy she describes.

Amy Frogge comment Here's the whole story. The parent/teacher concerns which were raised are not merely about one book.

by Dave Boucher

Kelly Sparkman tries to keep up with what her son reads at school, but she hadn't read the most recent book until her son told her about the "bad words."

When the seventh-grader at Nashville Prep was hesitant to discuss the rest of the book, Sparkman gave it a read. What she found in the novel angered her; it also led to school board member Amy Frogge calling for the closure of the charter school, sparking the latest fight between Frogge and charter founder Ravi Gupta.

"It would be very embarrassing for me if I were 12 years old to have to read some of that stuff in front of boys," said Sparkman, 50.

"I was embarrassed reading it in front of my mother, and it's my mother."

Her son and other middle school students at RePublic Schools charter schools in Nashville are reading "City of Thieves" by David Benioff, a co-creator of the HBO version of "Game of Thrones" and writer of the script for the film adaptation of "The Kite Runner."

The 2008 work of historical fiction chronicles the perils and lives of two boys in World War II-era Leningrad, according to a glowing New York Times Review. But the book includes profanity and sexually explicit scenes, Sparkman said.

Although The Tennessean found some cases where the book appears on middle school reading lists around the country, a quick Internet search provided more examples of the book assigned to high school students. Lexile, a well-known company that has analyzed more than 100 million pieces of published work, suggests the book is suitable for students ages 14-17. But the book's Lexile measure, a score assigned to books in an effort to convey who is ready to read the book, falls well within the company's parameters for content suitable for middle school students.

Gupta, CEO of RePublic Schools, acknowledges there is mature content in the book. But in a blog post Monday, he argued that the school's students are ready for the novel. He also noted the charter operator changed portions of the book deemed inappropriate for middle school students.

"We changed scenes involving 'sex' to scenes involving 'kissing.' We changed curse words like 's**t' to 'poop.' We also redacted whole sections that involved mature scenes," Gupta wrote in the post.

He added, "I am sure we missed a word here and a word there." Gupta said critics are overstating the mature content remaining in the edited version of the text.

That's not true, argued Sparkman and Frogge. When Frogge, perhaps the loudest voice against charter schools on the Metro board of education, learned of the assignment, she sent an email to two Metro Nashville Public Schools officials expressing concerns with the choice. Gupta wrote the blog post criticizing Frogge and the scrutiny of the text after he received a copy of her email.

"Whoever assigned the book made a half-hearted attempt to censor some of the foul language, but left plenty of bad language and details intact, including passages that degrade women and glorify casual sex," Frogge wrote in a Facebook post responding to Gupta.

Gupta and Frogge have sparred before over what happens at Nashville Prep: In the past, Frogge called for an investigation after she said parents described types of discipline they found inappropriate. The district denied those allegations after Alan Coverstone, director of innovation for the district, looked into the allegations. Gupta said in a statement Tuesday that Frogge continues to use inaccurate information to unfairly attack Nashville Prep and RePublic Schools.

"It's sad and revealing that she focuses so much time and resources attempting to tear down one of our city's highest-performing schools instead of trying to replicate its success," Gupta said, noting Nashville Prep's test scores are some of the highest in the state.

Timothy and Sheri Patterson don't mind that their son was assigned "City of Thieves." The Pattersons said their 12-year-old attends Liberty Collegiate Academy, a charter school under the same RePublic Schools umbrella as Nashville Prep, and really enjoys the novel.

"As an adult we get a joke from Sponge Bob on one level & children get it on a much more innocent level. The book is appropriate because it tells of two young boys going through a rough time & how they handle situations," the Pattersons said in an email to The Tennessean.

"Our children are exposed to more sex & language watching commercials between the approved shows they watch on TV."

Sparkman said her son's teacher said he had to read the book. After she said the teacher would not agree to allow her son to read a different book, Sparkman decided to mark out everything she considered inappropriate.

She fears her son could face reprisals because of her complaints, but she didn't want to let him read a book that's "basically the same thing" as the popular but explicit "50 Shades of Grey."

Gupta said the schools plan to continue teaching the book.

— Dave Boucher
The Tennessean





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