Edmond Public Schools ask state Supreme Court for guidance on book complaints

In an effort to clarify whether the state or individual school districts control their own curriculum, Edmond Public Schools filed a petition against the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

     This is following OSDE’s accusation that the school district is distributing what it calls “pornographic content” through its curriculum, namely from the books “The Glass Castle” and “The Kite Runner.”

     In the face of this dilemma, EPS is trying to balance the best interest of students while keeping their good accreditation score. Edmond Public Schools referred to the Oklahoma Supreme Court last week, so they will make a ruling on what exactly EPS must do. School accreditation is a reviewal process ranking the quality of educational standards for an academic institution.

     According to EPS Superintendent Angela Grunewald, the district has two paths: remove the books from the library, which the 25-year standing EPS policy, No. 3600, and federal law prevents her or the school board from doing, or tell the state board that it will not remove the books, putting the school district’s accreditation at risk. 

     “Our accreditation is something that has to be protected. That transcript is worth nothing if it comes from a non-accredited school. It is very important that your child is going to an accredited school,” she said.

      “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls tells the story of life as a poor, nomadic family in America, mostly during the 1960s and 1970s. Throughout the book, Walls describes her and her brother living through some instances of sexual abuse by older family members.

     Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 novel “The Kite Runner” tells a fictional story with autobiographical elements of Sohrab, a young orphan living in the Taliban-controlled capital city of Kabul, Afghanistan. Sohrab escapes with his adoptee Amir to America after being sexually exploited for his ethnicity by a Taliban official.

“It is well settled that an agency may only exercise the powers expressly given by statute,” said Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond in a prepared statement. (ABI RUTH MARTIN/OK.GOV)

      “An agency cannot expand those powers by its own authority,” Attorney General Drummond said regarding OSDE’s rulemaking authority in 2023. “The Legislature is vested with policymaking authority. I will not allow any state agency, board or commission to usurp the Legislature’s rightful role, even if they have the best of intentions.”

     “U.S. Supreme Court decisions have also found that local school boards and superintendents

may not unilaterally remove materials from public school libraries without following the policy

of their district. Our legal counsel has advised us that following the directive from the State

Department of Education to unilaterally remove the books could violate those rulings and our

existing EPS policy,” Grunewald said in a statement for Edmond families, which can be accessed on edmondschools.net. 

     Deer Creek Public Schools Superintendent Jason Perez issued a statement Wednesday supporting EPS’ decision to petition the Oklahoma supreme court, “When districts are not given the opportunity to intervene at the local level, it undermines [their] policies as well as the authority of the governing body elected by its community.”

    Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Sean McDaniel, who submitted his resignation Feb. 26, said,OKCPS supports the right of Edmond Public Schools or any other school district to challenge actions that they believe do not serve the best interests of their students and community…Communities deserve to have local issues addressed at the local level.”

     Norman Public Schools superintendent Nick Migliorno issued a statement regarding the situation, as well.

     “We believe having a diverse and wide range of literature available to our students is incredibly important. As we’ve stated, it is our job to teach students to think critically. Norman Public Schools has not banned any books. We also know and believe that parents and guardians are ultimately responsible for their child.”

     After being sued by Edmond Public Schools, OSDE opted against putting an action item

regarding the legal issue on its public agenda for its regular February meeting.

     If a parent does not want their child reading a specific book for class, teachers are required to

offer alternative reading/viewing assignments of equal merit and value. Grunewald said she believes that school problems should be dealt with at the lowest possible level first,

and contact up the chain of command should follow only if necessary.

     A singular complaint filed through Awareity, a reporting platform used by parents to object to school content, was received by OSDE and EPS in August 2023. However, in January 2024, the Edmond school district was notified for the first time of four additional Awareity complaints that were received between April and September of 2023. These complaints stated that two books were against EPS curriculum and requested their removal from the library.

     In October 2022, OSDE adopted the Awareity platform in an effort to improve child nutrition,

civil rights, curriculum or bullying problems. The online form is available for anyone in the

nation to use.

     “Edmond Public Schools has never included pornography in any of its library collections. Please know our Board Members and I have the interests of our entire district at heart and will continue to fight to protect the rights of Edmond students, parents and staff members,” Grunewald said.

     Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters released a statement Wednesday. “This is an ongoing subversion of accountability.  Edmond Public Schools not only allows kids to access porn in schools they are doubling down to keep pornography on the bookshelves.  Parents and kids should have the confidence of going to schools to learn.  Instead of focusing on education, EPS has chosen to peddle porn and is leading the charge to undermine parents in Oklahoma.” Walters then said in a Thursday state board meeting, “Edmond is trying to make it about these two books — that’s not the issue at hand,” Walters said. “We have been trying to work with Edmond Public Schools on ensuring that certain books were in the hands of age-appropriate kids in school. And that district decided to sue us on the entirety of our rules that ban pornographic material and sexually explicit material from minors.”

    Both books are taught at the high school level.

     EPS’ policy No. 3600, Letter C states, “Materials selected as part of the curriculum of the Edmond Public Schools and as provided by school libraries and classrooms are chosen for their literary, cultural, historical, artistic, technical, and scientific merit…Any parent has the right to request that his/her child be exempted from reading, viewing, or participating in any portion of the curriculum if it conflicts with that parent’s values and beliefs. Individual parents may not,

however, restrict what other children may read, view, or do.”

     Letter D of policy No. 3600 states, “If a parent has a complaint about some aspect of the

curriculum, or any library media holdings, he/she should first meet with the teacher or media

specialist involved and with the building principal. Most problems can be resolved at this level.

If the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome of the first step, he/she shall submit his/her

complaint in writing, using the #3600F form available from the building principal.”

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