Thursday, June 20, 2024

Book pulled at Lakeland Middle School

Staff Writer | April 6, 2024 1:09 AM

RATHDRUM — The pulling of “The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle” from three sixth grade classes at Lakeland Middle School turned into heated debate this week.

During a special meeting of the Lakeland Joint School District board, there were arguments whether interactions between Board Chair Michelle Thompson and Assistant Superintendent Lynn Paslay constituted collaboration or individual direction.

In mid-March, two of the classes had included the book in their syllabus, obtained parental permissions and were preparing to teach the book to students the following week. The third class had switched to the book mid-year and parents emailed board members Thompson and Ramona Grissom to ask about it. 

Board member Randi Bain was especially concerned after pointing out the tabling of the book was an action taken independently of the board without the input of the other members.

“I want to know exactly what happened because it was said that it was a board decision and it was not a board decision. Not a single one of the four of us had anything to do with the situation,” Bain said. 

Thompson stated the order of events concerning the book stemmed back to March 12 with a parent email on behalf of three families with students in sixth grade teacher Susan Chatterton’s class at Lakeland Middle School.

“They were given this book, ‘The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle,’ but none of the parents had approved it; it wasn't on their syllabus,” Thompson said.

The book by Leslie Connor focuses on childhood grief as Mason Buttle, a boy with dyslexia, mourns the loss of his best friend in the Buttle family’s orchard. Buttle is bullied and a police officer believes he was involved in the death of his friend.

Thompson's email to Paslay indicated parents believed there to be “homosexual content” with no opt-out alternative being provided.

Since Paslay was in charge of the supplemental curriculum, Thompson asked her to find out when the book was approved and added to the supplemental curriculum.    

“There was no assertion of power by me saying ‘pull that book,’” Thompson said. 

Since it wasn’t an item for the March board meeting, Thompson added it to the April agenda.

A phone call March 13 which Thompson called a “collaborative conversation” resulted in both Thompson and Paslay believing the other initiated the notion of pulling the book. 

“There were a lot of conversations that, unfortunately, we don't have a record of and even if it was a collaborative effort, you did not have the authority to do that to collaborate, you're not an administrator, you do not have the authority to make a decision,” Bain said.

Grissom said Bain wasn’t allowed to reprimand a public elected official outside of executive session and said the whole thing was blown out of proportion.

“Is the primary basis of the complaint about this two dad thing?” Trustee Bob Jones asked, adding that the concept was “harmless.” 

“Let me tell you something, I had two dads,” Jones said.

“Me, too,” Bain said. 

“I had two fathers, does that make me a bad person?” Jones continued.

“I think a lot of people had two dads,” Grissom said.  

“I had a father and I had a stepfather and I had a relationship with both of them at the same time and this paragraph is talking about two dads, one who lives somewhere and one who lives somewhere else, which could have been exactly the same situation that I grew up with, so I'm not sure why that's to be complained about,” Jones said. 

No actions were taken at the special meeting, but board members came to enough of a consensus to consider the topic concluded.  

“You have two teachers who followed appropriate protocol and are suddenly told, ‘you can't do this’ ... That is a terrific undermining of morale and credibility with respect to the board and the relationship with the teaching staff and I see that as a major concern,” Jones said.

Bain said the controversy prompted her to read ”The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle.” 

“I read it and it's a fantastic book so I just hope that our kids get the opportunity to read it,” Bain said.

    "The Truth as Told By Mason Buttle" by Leslie Connor.