‘Led by God,’ Brunswick woman appeals decision on challenged book

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A Brunswick County woman isn’t backing down from her efforts to remove a controversial young adult novel from one school’s classrooms.

Ash resident Frances Wood has appealed a decision earlier this week by a team of parents and educators to keep Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” at Cedar Grove Middle School.

Wood filed her original complaint with the district late last month, claiming the book contains numerous depictions of sexual behavior, as well as instances of racism, vulgar language, bullying and violence. Attached to her complaint was a petition signed by 42 members of her church, Soldier Bay Baptist.

See related story: Brunswick County school district receives second book challenge this year

In email exchanges released by the school district, Wood argues that Cedar Grove principal Rhonda Benton, a fellow church member, has the authority to remove a book from her school but has opted not to because of a perceived conflict of interest.

“I think the principal at Cedar Grove, simply because she is a believer and a member of the Christian church, when asked, she should have made the decision to remove this book from school because of its filthy content,” Wood wrote to Superintendent Dr. Edward Pruden in response to the committee’s unanimous vote to allow the book to remain part of the curriculum. “In this area, which is dominated by Christian churches, I think she would be criticized more for keeping it in her school then she would be for taking it out.”

District policy 3210 does state that the “principal or a committee…” can ultimately respond to a book challenge. But school district spokeswoman Jessica Swencki said Benton chose in this instance to follow the outlined process of committee review.

“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” tells the story of a poverty-stricken Native American boy and aspiring artist who struggles with his identity after leaving the reservation to attend an all-white school.

Since its publication in 2007, the book has received acclaim–including numerous national literary awards–but has also been at the center of controversy in school districts across the country.

It has been banned in school systems in Missouri, Washington, Wyoming and Idaho for sexually explicit passages and graphic language. A group of parents in Chicago also tried, unsuccessfully, to have the book pulled out of classes in 2009.

Wood argues in her complaint that there are no positive qualities to the book and said she would not recommend it to any age group.

Cedar Grove’s review committee disagreed Tuesday, arguing the value of “the realistic depiction of bullying and racism, as well as a need for tolerance and awareness of cultural differences.”

See related story: Recently challenged book to remain in Brunswick County schools

“It’s time we call a spade a spade and a filthy book a filthy book, no matter whose toes we have to step on,” Wood wrote to Pruden. “And we need to quit being politically correct when someone does something we know is in direct conflict with the Bible. We need to stand up and shout. I know I don’t want to take the consequences of God’s wrath.”

In an email sent to Benton before an official book challenge was made, Wood said she was led by God to have the book removed from Cedar Grove, and would send her correspondence “all over the county” if Benton did not decide, as principal, to take it off the shelves. She calls the novel “sin, pure sin.”

Pruden will now review the appeal and make his determination. While procedures do not specify a designated response time, Swencki said Pruden will review the appeal and issue a response within the next few weeks.

The superintendent’s decision may then be appealed to the Brunswick County Board of Education, a move Wood has already said, via email, she will take if Pruden upholds the school committee’s vote.

Wood has said she is not the parent or grandparent of a child at Cedar Grove. District policy states that parents or guardians who do not approve of school reading materials may request alternative texts.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@hometownwilmington.com