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Book-banning decision defended

The Baltimore Sun

The Harford County schools superintendent defended her decision to ban a teen-oriented novel about bullying from high school classes, but she told the school board last night that she is willing to take another look at the issue next year.

"This is not the definitive, forever decision," Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas said of her decision to ban The Chocolate War from the social studies curriculum for county ninth-graders. "We are discontinuing this book's use as a literary connection at this time and forming a new work group that takes us back to the original vetting for this curriculum."

The committee, which could include administrators, parents and some students, will review several books on bullying and harassment that might be appropriate to the "Living in a Contemporary World" curriculum for high school freshmen and report to Haas by May 2008. Haas said the group may very well recommend using The Chocolate War, a 1974 novel that tells the story of a boy who is bullied because he refuses to participate in his school's chocolate-selling fundraiser.

In August, teachers sent home a syllabus for the new class, created to help students with the transition from middle school to high school. The class on stress management and decision-making centered on the novel.

"This unit was developed in a short period of time with no time to examine multiple books," Haas said, adding she was concerned that no other literary works were considered. "I had to decide whether this book was appropriate to this unit."

Several parents had complained that vulgar language, including homophobic slurs, overshadowed the book's message on the dangers of bullying. Haas removed the book last fall and deferred her decision on its fate until a committee of educators and parents could review the book. That committee unanimously recommended the book.

Three speakers last night criticized Haas for bowing to the opinion of about 40 parents who were concerned about profanity, sexual content and references to homosexuality.

"I value intellectual freedom for my children," said Laura Krebs. "Young readers are the real losers here."

Board of Education members all said they had their own views about the matter but refrained from expressing them because they said they did not want to prejudice a possible appeal to them of the superintendent's decision.

The Chocolate War, which is on the American Library Association's list of the top 10 challenged books, is still included among collections in Harford's school and public libraries.

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