Committee declines to remove ‘The Hate U Give’ from PHS classes

Reconsideration of Instructional Materials Committee members, from left, Morgan Rinker, Lydia Olejniczak and Mari Butler Abry tallied the committee's votes at Tuesday's meeting.

The Reconsideration of Instructional Materials Committee, from left, student member Jefry Gonzalez, licensed employee member Amanda McDivitt, community members Misty Von Behren, J. P. Hulgan and Linda Kaufman, who chairs the committee, administration member Morgan Rinker, student member Lydia Olejniczak and teacher-librarian member Mari Butler, met for about 90 minutes Tuesday and voted to retain “The Hate U Give,” a young adult novel by Angie Thomas, for use in PHS English classes.

The Reconsideration of Instructional Materials Committee met for 90 minutes Tuesday afternoon and concluded by voting to take no action on the request by a school district parent to remove “The Hate U Give,” a young-adult novel by Angie Thomas, from use in sophomore English classes at PHS.

Members of the public were given an opportunity to speak prior to the committee’s deliberations and vote, and six people addressed the committee: four adults from the community and two Perry High School juniors who read “The Hate U Give” last year in their English class’ unit on social injustice.

The committee’s final recommendation to take no action will now be communicated to the Perry Community School District Superintendent Clark Wicks, who will in turn inform Kyle Baxter of Perry, the parent who lodged the complaint against the novel, of the decision.

If Baxter is not satisfied with the committee’s recommendation and Wicks’ decision, he may appeal to the Perry School Board for review. “Such appeal must be presented to the superintendent in writing within five days following the announcement of the superintendent’s decision,” according to school district policies. “The board will promptly determine whether to hear the appeal.”

The first member of the public to address the committee was PHS junior Kaitlyn Leber:

Greetings, council members. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to address you all this afternoon. My name is Kaitlyn Leber, and I am currently a junior at Perry High School. I am also the daughter of a member of the Perry Police Department. I’m writing to you today as a student of Perry High School, a daughter of a police officer and someone who has read “The Hate U Give.” I will be talking about my experience reading the book, how the book is a new era to modern-day literature and why “The Hate U Give” should stay a part of the English curriculum here at Perry High School.

When I first got the option to read three different books in English class, my mind immediately went to, “Well, which book will be the least boring?”  Out of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Goodbye Days” and “The Hate U Give,” I found myself most drawn to “The Hate U Give.” I feel like I was drawn to the book so much because Starr was a girl in high school just like me.

I enjoyed this book because I not only got to see one side of someone’s story but multiple sides. My father is a police officer, and I’ve always heard his stories being told from his perspective, but I never have had the chance to meet a person of color who constantly lives their lives on edge because of the way some officers have treated them.

After finishing the book, I immediately recommended that my dad read it because I wanted him to also feel what I felt, which was empathy. I’ve never had the opportunity to be able to put myself in someone else’s shoes for once, particularly a person of color, and I think that “The Hate U Give” being an option to be taught in school was an incredibly eye-opening experience for me.

“The Hate U Give” is such a popular book in high schools because the author, Angie Thomas, writes from the perspective of a 16-year-old girl. Most high schoolers like “THUG” because they are able to relate to the main character, Starr, which makes kids more eager to learn and have in-depth discussions about real-life things happening in our world today.

Reading “THUG” and having productive, honest and respectful conversations taught me lessons I don’t think I would have learned otherwise if not for the opportunity given to me by the English department here at Perry High School. I will forever be grateful for the ways in which they have helped me grow and mature into a thoughtful future adult.

In conclusion, it is in my humble opinion that “The Hate U Give” should stay a part of Perry High School’s curriculum. Our community and our country is very diverse, and it would be a travesty for this school board to take away the opportunity for students at Perry High School to be able to read this book and have guided, thoughtful conversations about things that affect our peers and our community members. I thank this committee again for their time and allowing me to voice my opinion.

Rachael Kares, a PHS junior, was the second speaker. She shared with the committee the results of an informal survey that should conducted among her peers on Snapchat and Instagram:

On Oct. 3, 2022, at 4 p.m. (yesterday), I created a survey that was open to only PHS high school students and alumni (within two years). This was open for students to give their opinion if they were not able to make the meeting today, and I am here to share and give the data from it. This survey was accessible to everyone no matter their opinion on the matter. I closed the survey today (Oct. 4, 2022, at 2 p.m.), so all the data I’ve collected is within a 22-hour time period.

Opinion quotes that stuck out to me: 

  • “This book is one of the books I have ever really enjoyed.”
  • “I think this book was very educational and provided constructive conversations.”
  • “Such a good book and movie with a good lesson behind it.”
  • “It’s an eye-opening book. It is not anti-police it is anti-polic- violence towards people of color.”
  • “It isn’t anti-police. It’s about police brutality.”
  • “You shouldn’t take it away from everyone. Different assignments have been given as well.”
  • “Prior to reading THUG, teachers send out notes that require a parent’s signature. Students can’t read this book if parents do not approve.”
  • “I feel this book teaches us about family friendship consequences for our action. It’s much more than just about racism.”
  • “One of the best books I have read. It had amazing takeaways.”

Brenda Mintun of Perry was the first adult to address the committee:

My name is Brenda Mintun, and I am the instructional coach for the high school and a former English teacher. I had not read “The Hate U Give” prior to this complaint, although it is used in the HS curriculum. Therefore, I approached it with fresh eyes, aware of the concerns brought about by the complainant.

People often say not to judge someone unless you have walked a mile in their shoes. We all know it is not possible to truly understand someone else’s experiences. We haven’t lived those experiences day in and day out. However, I feel reading books is the closest we can come to understanding those experiences, viewing the world through a narrator’s perspective. This increases our empathy for those who may be different than us and solidifies that we are not alone in situations to which we can relate.

In reading this book, I changed my understanding of what many of the characters were going through — from the police, to the witness, to the family and friends involved. Yes, it focuses on controversial topics, but instead of promoting division, I feel it provides an opportunity to bring people together.

As an instructional coach, I have had the opportunity to observe in these English teachers’ rooms when they have facilitated conversations. The discussions I have witnessed have always been very civil, engaging and enlightening for students.

One time after a discussion, a student asked Mrs. Baldwin what she thought about the situation in the novel. She answered that her opinion didn’t matter. She responded “What do you think? And why?” When the student still pressed for an answer, she said it was not her job to teach the student what to think. It was only her job to teach the student how to think and how to defend their position.

I feel that “The Hate U Give” is an asset to the HS curriculum in promoting engagement and diversified perspectives. While I would not enjoy walking in Starr’s shoes in real life, I enjoyed reading and discussing the book. I feel it broadened my perspective, and I would endorse my three children reading it in high school as part of the curriculum.

Monica Peitz of Perry made the following statement to the committee:

My husband and I live here in Perry. Our four children graduated from Perry High School. I have read this book and several years ago, after the protests of George Floyd’s death, I watched the movie. I felt it important to try to understand the reasoning and history behind these protests.

I attended last week’s meeting. Thank you so much to all involved. I’m here to give my opinion.

Protests turning violent is not new. I grew up with Civil Rights marches and student protests against the Viet Nam war. People were killed during these protests, and news outlets reported them. What is new is social media’s impact of turning reasoning, discussion and opinions into memes or phrases, without delving into facts behind opinions. Misinformation is spread rampantly. Some people develop opinions solely on social media’s influence. Dangerous.

Developing productive citizens of character is part of this school district’s mission. Good citizens need to know about current events so they can vote knowledgably. They need to learn to discuss differing opinions with respect. Know there are various perspectives of people raised in differing environments. Learn critical thinking skills to separate fact from opinion. Develop logic and detect lack of it in hearing an argument’s reasoning.

In listening to the teachers, this is what happens in their classrooms. And it sounds as if the choice of this book has engaged students who haven’t seemed engaged in other materials.

I urge this committee to choose the option of taking no action for two reasons. I don’t think this book glorifies the ghetto lifestyle. The conflict experienced by the main character’s family in trying to keep friends and family safe in the dangerous environment of her home community does not make someone want to live there. The language is edgy, but teachers have addressed this. The uncle policeman is seen as one of integrity and compassion, who brings out the point that Chief Vaughn stated: No one wants a policeman who is a bad actor.

Secondly, I think it’s a dangerous precedent to hobble a trained teacher in making curriculum choices because one or two students don’t like it. This student is taking the option of studying a different book. That’s how it should be. Would a medical clinic disallow a physician from recommending a medically approved treatment option from all patients because one or two decided it wasn’t good for them? No. Let’s give teachers the same respect.

Mandy Myers-Meyers of Perry addressed the committee:

Hello, my name is Mandy Meyers. I am a second grade special education teacher, president of the Perry Education Association and a parent of a sophomore who is currently in Ms. Baldwin’s English class.

Being the parent of a teenager, I have learned that no matter how many values you instill in your children, at this age they begin to develop their very own, very selfish sense of self. Teenagers tend to believe that the entire world revolves around them, and that every injustice, no matter how small, is the end of their world.

It becomes parents’ and teachers’ jobs to help them understand that there is a world out there bigger than themselves. Good parents do this constantly. Teachers do this by exposing students to material that makes them think about and question a world outside of themselves. It helps them to look at their social circle to see that often their problems are small when compared to others. In my opinion, “The Hate U Give” does this and much more.

I came across a quote from the book that I think speaks volumes to the experiences of the students in our district. Stars says, “I hope none of them ask about my spring break. They went to Taipei, the Bahamas, Harry Potter World. I stayed in the hood and saw a cop kill my friend.”

There is a divide between the socioeconomic status of students in the district. Some are able to take lavish vacations. They have swimming pools and lake homes. But for many in our district, that is not the case. Many are lucky if they get three meals a day, have their own bed to sleep in or clean clothes to wear or a place to live. My first year, I had a student who moved here from Chicago. He had barely been able to attend school there because it was too dangerous to walk down the street to get there.

“The Hate U Give” benefits both of these groups of students. Those who live a more privileged life get exposure to, and understanding of, the lives other teenagers live. It helps them understand the social injustices that affect kids their own age, and maybe they realize they can help. For those like my student from Chicago, they get to see themselves represented. And representation matters. Representation makes kids feel seen and understood. My hope is that this exposure encourages both groups to become a catalyst for the change they want to see in society.

While the Baxters do have a right to decide what their child reads, they do not have the right to make those decisions for my child. They do not get to take away the opportunity for students to see themselves represented in literature. They do not get to shelter kids from the truth about society’s injustices just because it doesn’t fit their life experiences. I encourage the committee to approve the use of this novel. And I sincerely thank the teachers who have worked hard to create and defend this unit.

The final public comment came from Laura Stebbins of Perry:

To quote author Lois Lowry: “Submitting to censorship is to enter the seductive world . . . where there are no bad words and no bad deeds. But it is also the world where choice has been taken away and reality distorted. And that is the most dangerous world of all.”

The request asked for the social justice lesson theme to be replaced with “something that would better our kids for life.”

Social justice is one of the critical and constant themes of humanity. An unavoidable reality. From the trivial frustrations of someone cutting in front of us in traffic to the complex challenges that demand our attention to ensure we become the country we aspire to be. Who gets a quality education? A mortgage? A living wage? Elected to office? The job promotion? Arrested?

The request also asked for an “alternative view . . . to present both sides” and mentioned wanting “a book with an opposing theme.”

I’m confident that’s exactly what the skilled teachers who facilitate this curriculum do. Discussions no doubt take place around the choices and actions of the characters in the book. Alternative views are shared when students engage, when they share their life experiences and their agreement or disagreement. It’s not a matter of presenting “both sides” but of listening to and learning from a full circle of perspectives. Understanding others’ perspectives, their motivations, what circumstances may lead someone to certain views or behaviors.

And doing it in the safe space of a high school classroom, where perspectives may be challenged, but everyone is heard, and teacher support is in place to help everyone safely navigate through complex topics. Such discussions provide an education—an enlightening experience.

Future business owners who need to understand customers’ perspectives to maximize their success, future government officials who need to understand their constituents’ experiences to fully represent them in our democracy, citizens of the world who need to be able to effectively navigate a diverse society.

This lesson and class discussion does what’s being requested—“betters our kids for life” and goes beyond presenting “both” sides to sharing the experiences of every student who participates.

To quote novelist and screenwriter Stephen Chbosky: “Banning books gives us silence when we need speech. It closes our ears when we need to listen. It makes us blind when we need sight.”

After listening to the public comments, the Reconsideration of Instructional Materials Committee Chairperson Linda Kaufman led the committee in a point-by-point analysis and discussion of all the objections raised in Baxter’s request for reconsideration.

Before the vote, Kaufman reminded the committee of the district policy: “The sole criterion for the final recommendation is the appropriateness of the material for its intended educational use.”

It is worth noting that the PCSD School Board’s mission is “to develop knowledgeable, skilled and productive citizens of character,” and the school system has set itself the “overall goal of providing the students an opportunity to develop a healthy social, intellectual, emotional and physical self-concept in a learning environment that provides guidance and encourages critical thinking in students.”


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