Committee to consider controversial book

Sunday Times Newspapers


WYANDOTTE — A reconsideration committee has been authorized by the Wyandotte Public Schools Board of Education to evaluate the appropriateness of a book used as part of an 11th-grade honors English class at Roosevelt High School.


In November, resident Libbie Hall came to the board with concerns about specific passages in “The Bookseller of Kabul.” The nonfiction book chronicles everyday life in Afghanistan and is taught to expose students to different cultures.


A friend of Hall and a student in the class, Jamie Sarna, brought passages to Hall’s attention that describe bestiality and rape in the context of the conditions of Afghan women who are dominated by men.


“The Bible isn’t taught in school because they don’t want to offend anyone,” said Sarna, “but some things in this book offended me and a lot more people, so I don’t know where the line is drawn.”


The student also said, however, that she enjoyed the book and that it’s one of the best she has read in high school. Her mother, Toni Lynn Sarna, said she is upset that her daughter has been yelled at and teased by other students over the controversy.


“There has been so much headbutting over this, and it doesn’t need to be that way,” Toni Lynn Sarna said.


“Jamie is not the bad guy here, and she doesn’t have to be treated like the bad guy.”


While Hall doesn’t have a child in the class, she does have a son attending the high school and would not approve of him reading the book.


“My concern is the sexual content in the book,” Hall said. “How did this book get in with the reading material for our children?”


Since Hall began voicing her concerns, many teachers, high school staff members and students have come forward to defend the book.



The new committee will be led by librarian Annette Haley and include teachers Rob Keast and Warren Baker, Roosevelt Principal Mary McFarlane, Hall and resident Rod Lesko.


Keast and Haley support using the book; Baker recommended it to Sarna’s teacher, Sean Soules.
The committee also will use a newly formed media selection policy to make its decision.


Secretary Michael Peters and Trustees Kathy Bedikian and Michael Swiecki all took issue with the choice of committee members.


“I don’t think it is in our best interest to have the challenged teacher or the challenger on these committees,” Bedikian said.


Board President Robert Kirby said he stands by his appointments and believes everyone concerned will have a preconceived notion about the book. Vice President Kevin Van Boxell said if one person is disqualified from the committee, then all must be disqualified, because everyone has voiced their opinions.


“They are grown-ups, they have legitimate concerns, they have their children’s interests at heart, whether they agree or disagree with the book,” Van Boxell said.



The committee’s assignment is to form an opinion and then present it to the academic review committee, which comprises Peters, Bedikian and Swiecki, who then will take it to the board for a final decision.


Questions also have been posed about the formation process for the committee and the way Hall has dealt with her concern. Board protocol is for concerned parents to speak with a teacher, then the principal and the superintendent before coming to the board; Hall came right to the board with her concerns.


“What I know about the ‘Bookseller’ is on the same day it went to the principal, it went to the Board of Education,” Peters said. “Then at the next scheduled Board of Education meeting, we had a motion on the floor to ban the book and destroy all copies.”


The committee, which some are saying was hastily put together, will be subject to the state Open Meetings Act, meaning that members of the public will be able to voice concerns during its meetings.


The committee formation was approved by a 4-2 vote, with Bedikian and Sweicki voting against; Trustee Jerry Kupser was absent.