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Controversial book spurs battle at school board meeting

MURPHY — A Three Rivers School Board member battled with parents Tuesday evening over a controversial book available in the district's high school libraries.

"Persepolis," an autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi about her experiences growing up during the Iranian revolution, contains coarse language and scenes of torture in a totalitarian regime. It is banned in two places: for seventh graders in Chicago public school schools and in Iran.

During Tuesday night's school board meeting at district headquarters, some parents argued the book shouldn't be allowed in the hands of their children without their approval.

When one parent approached the board about the book, school board member Kate Dwyer, who works as a librarian for the private, nonprofit Josephine Community Libraries, interrupted the man numerous times, causing several members of the audience to add their names to the list to speak at the meeting in order to give Dwyer a piece of their mind.

"Ma'am, you seem to be educated, would you like to continue my comments?" the man, Joseph Rice said, about the third time Dwyer stopped his remarks.

Dwyer told Rice he needed to tell what the book was about and couldn't just read portions to the board to show where he was offended.

Board Chairman Danny York asked Dwyer to allow Rice to speak. A few minutes later, York himself asked that Rice stop due to the language being read from the book.

"You're offended by the work," Rice said, asking why the book was in the library if the language wasn't allowed in the district office and school hallways.

"What type of a double standard is being taught?" Rice queried. "If this is in a college level (library), I have no problem."

As soon as Rice took his seat, Dwyer addressed the audience, sharing her thoughts about the merits of "Persepolis," and comparing it to some violent passages in the Bible, which, she said, she wouldn't allow to be removed from school libraries.

The discourse didn't stop there. Community resident Dale Matthews used part of his public comment time to reprimand York for "allowing one of your board members to constantly interrupt. They may be full of beans, but I think (interrupting) is a bad trend."

Vikki Johnson, who has children in Three Rivers' schools, said she'd be upset enough to pull her students out of the district if they came home with a book like "Persepolis."

And, Johnson said, she was offended by Dwyer "undermining a parent's authority" over what books are available to their kids and inserting her approval of the book when a parent complained about it.

"I'm boiling mad," she said. "You have your own opinions. Don't put them on mine."

An English teacher from New Bridge High School, which operates inside the walls of the Oregon Youth Authority's prison in Grants Pass, also spoke in favor of the book, which is on a suggested reading list from the Oregon Department of Education.

Sylvia Marr, a Hidden Valley High School student, also defended the book, telling the board, "I don't want to be sheltered."

But what got the crowd most involved were the comments of parent Wendy Taylor, who said, "I'm kind of ashamed to have attended a meeting (where) a speaker got up because he cared … and was immediately not only interrupted, but I believe browbeaten," Taylor said, addressing the rest of her comments to Dwyer. "That is inappropriate in a public meeting … It's wrong. You intimidate the people who want to be active."

After audience applause for Taylor's comments, board member Ron Crume Jr. suggested parents go through district chain of command for requesting a review of "Persepolis," which involves contacting the superintendent and director of curriculum. If no action is taken at that level, the parent can then return to the board for possible action.

Reach reporter Ruth Longoria Kingsland at 541-474-3718 or rkingsland@thedailycourier.com