Novel solution in Judson: Board reinstates sci-fi book

Web Posted: 03/24/2006 12:00 AM CST (Link, San Antonio news site)

Jenny Lacoste-Caputo
Express-News Staff Writer

The critically acclaimed novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” was reinstated to Judson Independent School District’s Advanced Placement curriculum after board members voted 5-2 Thursday in favor of the move.

“I don’t see how we can ban this book,” board vice president Richard LaFoille said after the board listened to nearly three hours of public testimony. “You kids want this book, I’m going to give it to you.”

Superintendent Ed Lyman pulled the novel from the district’s AP English curriculum after parent Cindy Pyo complained she found it sexually explicit and offensive to Christians.

Lyman made the decision to remove “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood from the curriculum, overruling the recommendation of a committee of teachers, students and a parent.

The committee appealed Lyman’s decision to the school board.

Lyman said Thursday he wouldn’t want his children to read the book and didn’t feel it matched the community’s standards.

More than 30 people spoke at the board’s meeting Thursday, including 10 teachers and a dozen students who defended the novel. Only five people spoke in favor of pulling the book.

Craig Gagne, a senior at Judson High School, spoke passionately in support of the book, eliciting applause and cheers from the audience of nearly 200, made up largely of high school students.

“If we do ban ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ because of sexual content, then why not ban ‘Huckleberry Finn’ for racism? Why not ban ‘The Crucible’ for witchcraft? Why not ban ‘The Things They Carried’ for violence and why not ban the Bible and argue separation of church and state?” Gagne asked board members. “All the books I just mentioned are part of the 11th-grade Judson High School English curriculum. I read and appreciated all of these books and would like future classes to have the same privilege.”

“The Handmaid’s Tale,” published in 1985, tells the story of an environmentally blighted United States after a coup.

Civil war rages as a fundamentalist Christian regime revokes all women’s rights and presses the few who remain fertile into sexual slavery as breeders, called handmaids, for infertile couples.

The critically acclaimed book was added to Judson’s curriculum for AP English about 10 years ago. The College Board exams that AP students must take to earn college credit include questions about the novel.

District policy allows parents who object to reading material to request that their children be given an alternative assignment.

Jacque Middleton, chairman of Judson High’s English department, said a handful of parents over the past decade have asked for an alternative assignment, but this was the first time someone demanded that it be removed from the curriculum.

Kwon Pyo, Cindy Pyo’s husband, read a graphic excerpt of the book to board members.

“I’m appalled by this trash book,” Pyo told board members with the volume and passion of a street preacher after reading from the book. “When garbage goes in, garbage comes out. This is trash and it will corrupt the American youth.”

Judson senior Robbie Cimmino, who read the book in class last year, said the sexual content in the book was being taken out of context. If anything, he said, the book is a cautionary tale that teaches students to respect their bodies and respect the rights of others.

“It made me stop. It made me think. It made me reflect,” he said. “If I had not had a chance to read this book, I feel I would’ve been cheated out of an opportunity to learn and grow.”