Philomath Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday talks during Thursday night's School Board meeting while board chair Rick Wells, left, and board member Christopher McMorran look on. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Two parents with children in the local school district approached the School Board on Thursday night to oppose the availability of a book that they described as inappropriate and pornographic. They’re also wondering, if that title is available, what else might be within reach of local students?

The topic came up at Thursday night’s Philomath School Board meeting during the public comments period. The two parents wrote emails to the board that were read aloud by chair Rick Wells — both complaining about a graphic novel entitled, “Flamer,” a semi-autobiographical story by Mike Curato that they said is available at the Philomath Middle School library.

One of the parents, Chelle Krantz, said “Flamer” is not only “explicit in content but it also has pornographic pictures … none of which are appropriate at the middle school level.”

“Do you really feel this is OK for 12-, 13-year-old children to see and read? Why are we allowing things like this? Why are we subjecting our kids to porn?” she asked in the email.

Another parent, Sara Marrs, expressed concerns about the process of bringing in books to the school district’s libraries.

“The fact that the book titled ‘Flamer’ is available to check out at our middle school library is very disturbing and makes some of us wonder what other disturbing books are readily available,” Marrs wrote in her email to the board, following with selected quotes from the novel to illustrate her point.

“Flamer,” which has been challenged in other school districts around the country, is a story about a boy transitioning from middle school to high school and realizing he’s gay while on the “path to self-discovery and acceptance.”

Both parents had several questions for the board, including how materials are chosen, what policies are in place to determine what’s appropriate or inappropriate and where does funding come from for library materials?

Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday said that a library media specialist in the district received a similar email about the same book and a response had been put together “with regard to how our materials are chosen, who selects them, what’s the resources, those kinds of things.”

Halliday said she would provide the same information to the two parents who wrote to the board and follow-up publicly at a future meeting.

Krantz expressed the hope to see parents become involved with the decision-making process of what books go into school libraries.

“Ultimately, we as parents have a right to know what our children are being exposed to regardless of whether they’re in kindergarten or a senior in high school,” Krantz wrote, later adding, “We can’t unteach these things once they are taught.”

After the emails had been read, Krantz shared more of her frustrations — including a statement that there is a list of hundreds of books that should be reviewed.

“This is like a big deal,” she said. “Like, our children are so oversexualized in society and we’re sending them to schools to learn reading and math and social studies — not how-to alternatives to regular sex. These are children.”

Wells said he understands their frustrations and said the board would perform its due diligence on following up on the matter.

In other news out of the Aug. 18 meeting:

• The board unanimously approved with little discussion and minor revisions a three-year contract for the superintendent. At Halliday’s request, she will receive no cost-of-living adjustment on her $135,000 annual salary for 2022-23. COLA increases will be added to her salary in 2023-24 and 2024-25. 

• The board unanimously approved a co-op athletics agreement with Alsea High School for girls soccer, boys and girls swimming, baseball and softball to run through 2025-26. Alsea High either does not have enough athletes to field their own teams or do not have the proper facilities to participate in those sports.

• Halliday said Philomath Academy’s planned move to the building that currently serves as the district office has been delayed until after the winter break because of longer-than-expected city permit processing. She said the academy will begin the school year in the high school library and once permits are obtained, work will begin on updating space in the district office.

• In her superintendent’s report, Halliday talked about an agreement with the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians that is up for renewal. In 2017, the district and tribe signed a five-year agreement that covered goals related to student curriculum, professional learning and use of the Warriors and Braves mascots. She also recommended the future approval of a native land acknowledgment statement to be shared publicly as appropriate after providing samples for the board to consider.

• Jennifer Griffith, business manager, updated the board on financial information, including a lower-than-expected ending fund balance for the 2021-22 fiscal year. Griffith said the business office is preparing for the annual audit to take place in October.

• Griffith also shared kind words for a donation in labor from Chris Martin of Canvas Landscape Maintenance, which installed an underground irrigation system on the PHS football field, a contribution valued at around $9,000. The district paid $13,800 for materials.

• As part of the consent agenda, the board approved a resolution to accept $204,850 in funding from an Oregon Department of Education Recruitment and Retention grant. The consent agenda vote also covered various personnel and staffing adjustments, including the resignation of Philomath Academy teacher and swim coach Daniel Mikula. Among the new hires is Michele McRae as a district executive assistant to eventually take over for the retiring Lillian Edmonds, and Beth Aschenbrenner as Philomath High’s Spanish teacher.

• In addition to the comments about books, the public comment period also included a resident’s thoughts about COVID-19 and stressed the importance of limiting spread in schools through the use of effective precautions. Later in the meeting, Halliday provided an update on COVID management plans, information that included confirmation that face masks, although encouraged, will be optional to begin the school year. Read the full management plans here.

• The board planned a board retreat to run from 6-9 p.m. on Sept. 8, tentatively at Blodgett School.

• The board met for 20 minutes in executive session as allowed by state statute “to consider records exempt by law from public inspection.” The executive session started 10 minutes late because of a false smoke alarm that went off four times at Philomath Elementary, which prompted a response from Philomath Fire & Rescue.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.

4 replies on “School Board listens to opposition about a book at middle school library”

  1. I grew up in the Philomath school system, all 13 years. One of the best gifts I was ever given was the license to read whatever I chose, and to have a good selection of books with all kinds of information in them, easily accessible, for my own discernment. Philomath’s school libraries are not huge, and it is essential that they contain a wide variety of material, even material that is somewhat controversial. I understand parental concern, but please, please, please, do not go down the path of book banning, Philomath.

  2. Not that it has anything to do with this, but I also grew up in the Philomath school system. Fortunately, I don’t grant my kids any kind of “license” to read whatever they choose, nor the schools, to choose material like this. These are children, and they have no business reading/looking at material like this. I do think it’s important for schools to have a wide variety of material available, of course, but this? Is unacceptable. If you want books like this available to your kids, buy them yourself and keep them at home.

  3. The book is not required reading. You’re starting down a questionable path, Oregon Moms Union.

    A good library includes books that offend everyone.

    Children need opportunities to read things that intrigue them, characters they see themselves in, ideas that challenge their critical thinking skills… the list goes on and on.

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