It was standing room only for the Board of Education meeting Monday evening in the Clarence Central High School Lecture Hall and everyone was ready for a fight.
What got them riled up was an informational packet sent out last week by Ginger Lahti, wife of School Board member Jason Lahti, regarding objectionable materials in classes, along with an invitation to discuss them at the meeting.
She cited 24 books assigned by English teachers, many containing sex and profanity, and the sex education segments of health and biology classes, notably a discussion of flavored condoms. It promised to be a classic battle over school curriculum and book banning.
But when the floor finally opened for public discussion, the fight was pretty much over before it started.
School Superintendent Geoffrey Hicks began by explaining the rules on curriculum, how it’s set up by committees and how students can be allowed to opt out on certain topics.
“If parents have objections,” he said, “they can come in and we will make arrangements. We think these things have worked well over the years and see no reason to change this.”
“I would be greatly against banning these books,” Board member Julie Ann McCullough, a former Williamsville teacher, said to loud applause. “I think our teachers know best.”
Jason Lahti further defused the confrontation. “My intent in putting this on the agenda,” he said, “was not to discuss banning of specific books, but to make sure people are comfortable with the policies as they are set up. I’m not trying to push a personal agenda, but if there are things you are concerned about, I think it’s great to hear about it.”
What the board heard for the next hour was an almost unanimous endorsement of the curriculum from parents, teachers, current students and former students.
Clarence High School English teacher Kevin Starr drew a standing ovation after declaring, “We will fight with passion to inspire the intellectual passion of our students. We are not just teachers. Most of us are parents, even grandparents, and are aware of the sacred task we are entrusted with each day.”
Even so, there were a few objections. Parent Lisa Haney, who was offended by the profanity in one of her daughter’s books, said, “I called the school and ... we found an option. But otherwise she would have had to sit five or six weeks in the library. That’s one-eighth of the ninth grade.”
In other business, The board decided to hold its annual budget meeting on May 13, a week before the May 20 public vote, which also will include a referendum on $995,000 in bus purchases.
The school psychologists gave a detailed presentation of how their services had been stretched to the limit by the elimination of all of the district’s social workers in past four years.
And it was announced that there would be six retirements by staff with a combined 150 years of experience, including one of the psychiatrists. At the end of the meeting, McCullough surprised everyone by announcing that she, too, has decided to retire after serving for 12 years.