Summer reading assignments are designed to keep kids thinking over the summer break.
But some parents are worried about what Grace E. Metz Middle School’s summer reading assignments could have their kids thinking.
Some books recommended for seventh and eighth graders were not “age-appropriate,” parents said at a Manassas City School Board work session Tuesday night.
Those books included suicide scenes, sexual innuendo and bad language, said Joan McIvor, who attended the meeting with her husband, Brian. The McIvors have a 12-year-old daughter at Metz.
“We used to have trust in Metz,” Joan McIvor said Tuesday night. “So we were shocked to see the approved Metz reading list.”
This year, sixth-grade students were asked to read one assigned book and choose a second from a school-suggested list of 81 books.
Students in the seventh and eighth grades were told to choose two books from a separate list of 39 books.
“I don’t like censorship, but some of those books just should not be on the list,” said parent Chris Clark.
Earlier this month, teachers and administrators at Metz began to receive complaints from parents about the books, Metz principal Melissa Saunders said.
“Several parents voiced concerns regarding the reading selections. We had staff review the books and they thought that some of the books were inappropriate,” she said.
The lists included books recommended by the Virginia State Reading Association and the International Reading Association, Saunders said.
Among the books parents objected to was “The Queen of Everything” by Deb Caletti. That books is about a “high school junior who has a fairly typical life until her father becomes involved with a married woman and then kills the woman’s husband,” according to the International Reading Association summary.
“I would be appalled as a parent if my child was reading some of those books,” said School Board member Scott M. Albrecht.
Other School Board members said Metz staff should have read all of the books before they were included on the list.
“The first people who read these books, with explicit sex scenes, were the children,” said School Board member Patrick D. Linehan.
“These children are young and impressionable. This is not the time to experiment,” School Board member Curtis W. Wunderly agreed.
In future years, a committee made up of teachers, administrators and parents will read all of the books and make the list, Saunders said.
The books may also have to be approved by the School Board or the superintendent.
At the meeting, the School Board directed the Superintendent of Manassas City Schools, Chip Zullinger, to develop a policy for approving summer reading lists.
“We approve textbooks, but we’ve never seen summer reading lists before they go out. Perhaps this is evidence that we should,” School Board Chairman Arthur P. Bushnell said. “This is a whole new area we’ve not been involved in.”
Future lists will also include more classic literature, Saunders said.
For this year, seventh- and eighth-grade students at Metz can read any two books they want, with parental permission, Saunders said.
The students will only be required to complete written assignments. There will be no oral presentations or class discussions.
Metz administrators also plan to write a letter to the International Reading Association about the inappropriate books on their list, Saunders said.
“We want to share our concerns with them and make our voices heard,” Saunders said.
The summer reading program was started at Metz last year, Saunders said. Last year, all students read the same book. But this year, the school decided to give students more choice, she said.
Zullinger will present the School Board with a proposed summer reading policy at their Nov. 15 meeting.
The Metz summer reading list can be found on the school’s Web site at http://www.manassas.k12.va.us/metz.
Staff writer Amanda Stewart can be reached at (703) 878-8014.