School District to Get Book Policy

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In a move designed to end months of controversy, the Escondido Union School District staff tonight will provide the school board with a proposed policy dealing with parental complaints about books.

The controversy was sparked by restrictions placed on "The Witches," a prize-winning children's book. The proposed policy will stress involving teachers and parents, as well as school administrators, in reviewing complains about books.

Assistant Supt. Jim Fitzpatrick and other staff members have been working on the policy for several months, after board members were angered that Supt. Robert Fisher unilaterally restricted "The Witches."

The 1983 book by Roald Dahl, who also wrote "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," was placed on a reserved shelf in the school library in February after four parents complained that it promoted the occult and gave children frightening, confusing images of women. That meant that parental permission was required for pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade to read the book,

In March, the board instructed its staff to draft a policy giving the board, not the superintendent, the final say on restricting books.

The policy calls for the formation of book review committees made up of six parents and six school employees.

A district review committee had been in place when the complaint over "The Witches" was raised in December. That committee had voted, 3 to 1, with a parent dissenting, to keep the book on the shelves. But Fisher overrode that vote.

The book, which was a New York Times Book of the Year, has been in the school libraries since 1984. It had been reviewed by a district committee nearly two years ago when another parent complained. In that case, the committee unanimously approved the book's continued use.

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