Jefferson County administrators consider banning classic novel

(UPDATED, Sep. 22, to clarify student claims that teachers told them the book had already been banned, despite administrators’ claims that it hadn’t.)

RIGBY — Administrators in the Jefferson County School District are considering prohibiting a classic novel from being taught in two senior government classes after at least one parent voiced concerns over the book’s violent, sexually charged language.

“We have to consider and address these kinds of things when they come up,” said Jefferson County School District superintendent Lisa Sherick. “We have a responsibility to stay within district policy.”

Sherick questions whether a passage in the book, George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel, “1984,” contradicts district policy requiring academics to align with the “basic ideals, goals and institutions of the local community.”

The scrutinized passage reads: “He would flog her to death with a rubber truncheon. He would tie her naked to a stake and shoot her full of arrows like Saint Sebastian. He would ravish her and cut her throat at the moment of climax.”

Students acknowledge the violent and sexual nature of the passage, but talk of nixing the novel triggered a social media firestorm Wednesday.

“Rigby High School sucks,” senior Sarah Morgan wrote on Facebook. “The book 1984 is being banned because a parent thinks their almost 18 year old can’t handle it.”

As of Thursday afternoon, Morgan’s post had garnered over 100 comments from like-minded students and had been shared 14 times.

Sherick and Jefferson County director of secondary education Chad Martin shunned the phrase “book ban” and said they’re still unclear about how to resolve the issue. Martin has scheduled a meeting with the two senior government teachers now using the book to discuss the matter.

As of Thursday afternoon, however, Sherick said several options were on the table, from keeping the book and allowing concerned students to read another, to restricting it completely.

“We’re really just getting started in this whole process,” Sherick said. “One question we have to answer is whether these teachers can meet the learning standards by using another book.”

One of Rigby High School’s government teachers declined to comment, though several students said both government teachers involved had told students that the book had already been banned by administrators.

Sherick and Rigby High School principal Brian Lords denied claims that they had previously banned the book.

“The teachers are still using it right now,” Lords said.

Students also argue that administrators aren’t considering the book’s themes or larger context of the passage.

“If (school administrators) understood the novel, they would know why it is important,” said senior Natalie Gittins. “In this scene, Orwell is trying to show us that power is determined by one’s ability to control and degrade someone else.”

Lords said some students might be OK with the book, but he worries it might confuse, embarrass or disturb others who are unable to pick up on larger context or themes.

“As a principal and former counselor, I know some kids struggle with mental illness, addictions and other things,” Lords said. “Why put these things in front of them?”

Gittins pointed out that next week is banned books week.

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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