Editor's note: A caution to readers: Parents at the meeting spoke frankly and bluntly on the topic, using language some might find objectionable. Patch is quoting the parents verbatim.
The Glen Ellyn School District 41 Board of Education on Monday has nixed a recommendation to keep a controversial novel in eighth-grade classrooms at Hadley Junior High School at after two parents requested to have it removed because of its mature content.
The book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, has been available to eighth graders in literacy classrooms for independent reading. Per the school's literacy curriculum, students could choose to read a book and put it down at any time.
Hadley parents Jen and Brian Bradfield submitted their request after their daughter stopped reading the book because of its disturbing content, including references to bestiality and coupons for free oral sex.
Upon reviewing the request, researching reviews of the book and hearing from the Bradfields and the teacher who recommended the book, a committee comprised of Hadley teachers and administrators, one parent and a district administrator recommended the district keep the book at Hadley. The recommendation also included an increase in communication with parents to remind them of the importance of parental awareness of students' book choices.
"We can’t even describe to you how hurt we are that this was allowed, or recommended to her," Jen Bradfield told board members Monday.
"There are specifics of a boy making a fake coupon advertising a free blowjob—this is what our daughter read," she said. She read from the book, "'There was a guy Carl Burns and everyone called him C.B. and one day he got so drunk at a party, he tried to (have sex with) the host's dog.'
"...I don't see a place for this for 13-year-olds," she said.
Brian Bradfield said the book's content—bestiality, homosexuality, heterosexuality, oral sex for money—raised questions an eighth grader shouldn't have to ask.
"I didn’t want to have this conversation with my daughter in eighth grade," he said. "It's hard not to get emotional and upset because we're here talking about things we never thought we'd talk about... Our innocent child has already been tainted."
According to a publisher's description on Amazon, the book is a "haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion... the story of what it's like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating."
Hadley literacy teacher Lynn Bruno said while many Hadley students have supportive and caring parents like the Bradfields, there are students facing issues similar to those depicted in the book and don't have supportive parents to look to for guidance.
"Like it or not, your daughters and sons in eighth grade heard the word ‘blowjob,’" Bruno said. "I’ve been at this for 30 years… What they are exposed to in terms of dialogue, in terms of media... I don’t like it any more than you do, but it's (out) there."
She added books like Perks of Being a Wallflower are valuable because of the lessons students can learn from characters' decisions in difficult situations.
"I have children in my classroom who need this knowledge now because they’re facing those issues… You cannot take away from children who need to have those conversations... just because it upsets some other children."
Board member Sam Black said while he’s reluctant to censor material, he agreed the issues addressed in the book have no place in a middle school.
Board member Terra Costa Howard said her two daughters, in eighth and ninth grade, have both read the book and that she couldn't support removing the book from classrooms.
“The book was a suggestion (to my child) and she brought it home and we looked at it and talked about it, and she read it. …As a parent, that is my responsibility," she said.
"We, as parents and as board members who have been around, cannot in today’s day in age put our heads under the sand and think our children don’t know, and are not exposed to, (these) things... We live in an age where these kids are exposed to things much sooner than we want them to be.”
Board president Erica Nelson, who also voted in favor of the recommendation to keep the book, said the issue is subjective.
“This book might not even be appropriate for someone in ninth or tenth depending on their maturity level, but it might be appropriate for somebody at the end of eighth grade (with a different maturity level)," she said.
The board voted 4-2 against the recommendation. Board member John Kenwood was not present for the vote.
Following the vote, District 41 parent Betsy Pringle suggested Hadley staff implement a rating system for books, so parents could be made aware of potentially controversial books available to students.