UPDATE: Mat-Su School Board removes 5 'controversial' books from curriculum

Published: Apr. 23, 2020 at 10:07 PM AKDT
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The Mat-Su Education Association released a statement on Friday condemning the Mat-Su School Board's decision to ban five books from the curriculum.

“This is a blatant effort to curtail critical thinking, stifle discussion, and deprive our students of the opportunity to share, as a class, the experience of studying some of the most classic American literature,” Dianne K. Shibe, President of the Mat-Su Education Association.

The statement goes on to say that the Board made the decision with only minimal input by the community and disregard for the public process.


Controversy broke out this week in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough after the school board voted 5-2 to remove a selection of books from the curriculum.

The books in question are well known and include:

  • "I know why the caged bird sings" - Maya Angelou
  • "Catch-22" - Joseph Heller
  • "The things they carried" - Tim O'Brien
  • "The Great Gatsby" - F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • "Invisible man" - Ralph Ellison

At the Wednesday night meeting, there was a fair amount of debate over the topic of removing these books.

Board member Jeff Taylor asked: "Is there a reason that we include books that we've labeled as controversial in our curriculum? I would prefer they were gone."

Assistant Superintendent of Instruction in the Mat-Su Amy Sparg spoke against the removal, saying, "What makes something controversial is really subjective."

Jim Hart who would go on to vote to remove the literature from course work, made this observation: "If I were to read this in a professional environment at my office. I would be dragged to the equal opportunity office."

While Sara Welton, who voted to keep the books in the curriculum, said, "I think it's beneficial to our students. I think we might be doing a disservice to not provide that."

The motion to remove the books passed on a 5-2 vote. That same vote also stripped "The Learning Network" from teacher resources, a program offered by the New York Times.

As word of the decision started to circulate Thursday morning, the backlash was fierce. Tweets, Facebook posts, and all manner of social media displeasure, was shown.

River Kelly, a high school student at Mat-Su Career and Tech, told KTUU what he was hearing from his friends. "Almost everybody I've talked to has been shocked, demanding that these bans be taken back," the sophomore said.

Former Colony high school English teacher Peter Hopple was even more succinct saying, "I'm stunned, absolutely stunned."

"I'm pretty familiar with all the books," said Mike Okeson, the principal at Mat-Su Career & Tech, who used to teach English. "If you ask me to articulate for you what's controversial in "The Great Gatsby," I could not do that."

Channel 2 searched for favorable reactions to the board's decision but was unable to find any prior to publication of this story.

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