Waukesha school committee denies parent's request to ban 'The Kite Runner,' 'Chinese Handcuffs'

Published on: 8/20/2014

Another Waukesha parent tried to have books banned from the school district.

But again, a school panel, composed of school officials and teachers, unanimously denied the request at a meeting Wednesday morning. 

Karen Tessman, a parent of a Waukesha West High School student, filed a complaint in July to have the books "The Kite Runner" and "Chinese Handcuffs" removed due to the "extreme violence" she said is depicted in each book. 

Khaled Hosseini's "The Kite Runner," which was No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list, is part of the district's curriculum, having been previously approved by the district in 2006.

But the district's Consideration Committee, a subcommittee of the School Board, still took up the complaint on Wednesday. 

"Chinese Handcuffs," a 1989 young adult novel written by Chris Crutcher, is not part of the district's curriculum but is housed in school libraries. 

Tessman said at the meeting that the books are "desensitizing" students to violence.

"They don't need this kind of violence brought into their lives," Tessman said.

Tessman said after the meeting she plans on filing an appeal with the School Board. 

Tessman's complaint comes a month after Ellen Cox, a mother of a Waukesha South High School student, filed a complaint with the school district to have the 2005 John Green young adult novel "Looking for Alaska" banned from the district. 

The Consideration Committee unanimously denied Cox's request at a meeting last month.  

Cox has filed her appeal with the superintendent's office. 

Waukesha West Principal David LaBorde, who heads the Consideration Committee, said students always have the choice of opting out of a required book and choosing another one. 

Tessman said her student plans on doing that this school year for "The Kite Runner," a book that will now be taught in 10th grade English. It was previously part of the 11th grade curriculum.   

Waukesha North teacher Mary Ann Krause, who has taught English in the district for 26 years, said this was the first time books in the district have been challenged like this. 

Krause said she was part of the committee that wrote the curriculum that "The Kite Runner" is part of, which includes novels that highlight tradition and revolution and tradition and change of cultures.

"This book is a linchpin for that course," Krause said. "It is an incredibly powerful novel in the classroom and fundamental to our curriculum.

"This is one book that the students read carefully and maturely. Just the discussions are incredible that it develops and encourages."

While members of the Consideration Committee said they agreed that parts of "Chinese Handcuffs" were unsettling and disturbing, Krause said it becomes a "slippery slope" of banning books or denying access. 

"Slopes slip both ways in that if we remove this book, what's the next book that we remove, what's the next book after that," Krause said. "Our democracy is founded on access to information."

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