Stonington school board to listen to public Thursday on 'Animal Farm' decision
Stonington — The Board of Education has modified the agenda for its meeting on Thursday night so parents and residents can comment on a controversial decision to remove the book “Animal Farm” from the reading list used by longtime Mystic Middle School eighth-grade teacher Ed Goldberg.
The special meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the Stonington High School Commons, originally was slated to be limited to comments on the proposed 2017-18 budget and then board review of the budget.
But Frank Todisco, board chairman, said Wednesday afternoon that he had added an agenda item for Superintendent of Schools Van Riley to discuss the issue and then allow public comment on any issue including the “Animal Farm” decision. If Todisco had not modified the agenda, residents would have had to wait to comment until the regular board meeting on Feb. 9.
“I think by hearing from the community and the administration, the board will have a better understanding of the issue,” Todisco said. “After that the board will be in a better position to evaluate what any next step might need to be.”
Decisions such as modifying lesson plans or class reading lists typically are not issues the school board is consulted on and are the purview of classroom teachers, building administrators and principals.
In this case, Todisco said he became aware of the issue from a column written by David Collins that was published in The Day on Wednesday and brought the issue to light.
Todisco said that if the board needs to take some type of action on the issue, that would not occur until the Feb. 9 meeting. He added that allowing parents to comment Thursday night will give them a chance to be heard instead of having to wait a week.
Goldberg could not be reached for comment. Riley said he would answer questions Thursday night.
Goldberg, who has been using the book in class for more than 20 years, wrote in an email to a parent last month that he was not given a good answer as to why the book was dropped from the curriculum.
Written by George Orwell and published in 1945, “Animal Farm” is listed at No. 31 on the Modern Library List of 100 Best Novels. It has been part of many middle and high school reading lists for decades.
“None of the reasons I have been given make much sense. I have heard 1) whole group discussion of a single book is discouraged 2) the book is age inappropriate and 3) it’s not part of a ‘list’ of approved books. I don’t understand this either! ...,” wrote Goldberg to the parent.
He added, “Animal Farm is an important book. It is particularly relevant in so many ways: the political process, the social contract between citizens and government, the politics of language, the meaning of truth etc.”
Assistant Superintendent Nikki Gullickson has said a new system of developing anchor texts for core curriculum was put in place this year for eighth-grade classes and that the decision about Orwell’s book came from a meeting of teachers meant to build a consensus.
She had said students would be able to volunteer to learn about the book in an “enrichment” session outside the regular classes.
The removal of the book has generated numerous comments not only on The Day website but on the Stonington Community Forum Facebook page. Almost all criticized the decision to remove the book.
Parent Bob Statchen wrote on the community forum page that he was one of the parents who asked questions about the decision.
“I was not satisfied with the answers or the transparency as to how this curriculum decision was made. I think it is a retrograde step when talented and experienced teachers are not trusted to make smart decisions on how to teach their students. We have a great Board of Education made up of selfless volunteers and I hope they address this issue openly,” he wrote.
Former First Selectman Don Maranell added, “Time for the Board of Education to take a position. Animal Farm is a classic. I’d love to know why this decision was made. Should the Constitution be removed from the curriculum? It is VERY old.”