Parents continue to urge school district policy review following ‘Howl’ controversy
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The response has been inadequate, said Brett Cason, the father who lodged an official complaint and hired an attorney in response to the teaching of Allen Ginsburg’s poem “Howl” in his daughter’s class, at Monday night’s meeting of the Steamboat Springs School Board.
Cason questioned why the teacher is still in the classroom and said he still had yet to receive a written apology.
“That is why I did what I did,” he said, referring to his decision to “shine a light” on the situation by hiring an attorney and talking to television media outlets.
In an 8-1 decision, the district’s review committee determined “Howl” is “an influential part of our history” and, when taught in the context of the time period in which it was written, is an “important” piece of literature with widespread influence on poetry, art, jazz and hip-hop.
Cason also read an email written by his daughter Skylar Cason.
In the email, Skylar said she felt “guilt and shame” and wanted to “crawl out of my skin” at hearing some of the sexually explicit language in the poem.
“No student should ever feel this way in the classroom,” Brett Cason told the board.
He requested the school board ensure accountability and take a second look at district policies to make sure they are protecting parents and students.
Cason did not appeal the review committee’s decision but did hire Jeremy Dys, an attorney at First Liberty Institute.
Another parent, Ken Maudlin, told the board “lawyers were required because parents were ignored.” He pointed to specific policies he thought should be changed to require mandatory parental notification in more situations, including when teaching controversial material. He also chastised the handling of the situation during which he said information was being intentionally withheld from parents.
After the Steamboat Springs School Board cancelled two meetings as it waited for the state to certify election results, the new board met for the first time on Monday evening. Board members were elected to the following positions, and each was assigned as the primary point person to a different school.
• Kelly Latterman, president, point person for Strawberry Park Elementary School
• Katy Lee, vice president, point person for Steamboat Springs High School
• Lara Craig, secretary, point person for Steamboat Springs Middle School
• Kim Brack, treasurer, point person for North Routt Community Charter School, Yampa Valley High School
• Chresta Brinkman, member, point person for Soda Creek Elementary School
Tony Rosso, also a parent, read a letter from his niece Madeline Robertson, a 2014 Steamboat graduate now working as a victim advocate.
“The lack of concern by the administrator for this young woman’s discomfort is truly disheartening and makes me ashamed to be an alumni,” Robertson wrote.
She identified herself as very liberal and not someone who believes children who should be sheltered.
“I would argue that this is not an issue of conservative versus liberal, however, it is another display of a young woman voicing her concerns and a group of males dismissing it without hesitation,” Robertson wrote.
Roberston also warned that “this level of graphic material is one of the fastest and most damaging ways to trigger a student,” who may be a victim of sexual violence.
In a written statement, Dys laid out certain conditions to be met by the district by the end of the year, threatening stricter legal action otherwise.
It remains unclear at this time whether the district will comply.
In a statement on the district’s website, Superintendent Brad Meeks apologized for not alerting parents prior to the start of the school year to give students a choice to opt out of this part of the curriculum.
Of the four people who spoke at Monday’s meeting about the “Howl” controversy, one woman spoke in support of the teaching of the poem.
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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