'Animal Farm' not banned, school officials say; parents not satisfied

Stonington — Superintendent of Schools Van Riley stressed to a group of parents and the school board Thursday night that the district has not banned the book “Animal Farm” from the eighth-grade reading list but a decision was made during a realignment of curriculum that it would not be among a group of “anchor books” used by all teachers.

“Stonington Public Schools does not ban books. There is no list of banned books,” Riley said before adding a few minutes later, “'Animal Farm' was never, ever banned. The teacher who said it was has been encouraged to use it appropriately. I understand he used it in class today. 'Animal Farm' is there for all students to enjoy and teachers to use.”

Riley said teachers could use the George Orwell book as they feel necessary, such as a supplemental text, after school or during an enrichment period.

Some parents, however, were not satisfied, saying there has been a lack of transparency and communication by school officials about not only the "Animal Farm" issue but curriculum in general.

They also asked the school board if it was true that the teacher who opposed the removal of "Animal Farm" from the list of anchor texts, longtime Mystic Middle School eighth-grade language arts teacher Ed Goldberg, had been reprimanded for opposing the decision.

School officials did not answer the question. The Day filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the school system on Thursday for records of any disciplinary action taken against Goldberg.

Goldberg, who has been teaching the classic book 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.

“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.”

Riley offered a detailed explanation Thursday of how various curriculums periodically are realigned to ensure all students are taught some of the same books and there are no gaps or overlaps between classes and grades. He said a group of seventh- and eighth-grade teachers came up with the list of anchor books and recommended texts and articles. In addition, he said, teachers also have the freedom to choose other materials they would like to teach.

Parents, though, have said that not having "Animal Farm" as an anchor text means not all students will read it and there won't be time to teach the whole book because of time constraints of the curriculum.

Parent Penny Ann Boddle, the parent who had been emailing Goldberg about the controversy after her son said the book was being banned, said it was being used to teach a unit on Soviet Russia.

“The question is why is a tremendous and respected teacher not being given the latitude to teach books he wants to use,” she told the school board.

In a letter read to the board, parent Harriet Statchen said "Animal Farm" was her son’s and his classmates' favorite book when he was in Goldberg’s class two years ago and now her daughter was looking forward to studying it this year.

She said she never got a clear answer when she asked why Goldberg was no longer teaching the book. She said if books are being changed, there should be a transparent process with defensible reasons.

Alice Sasso, who said she had taught in Providence for 30 years and is now working on literacy issues, said that while Stonington teachers are fabulous, she had found a lack of information about literacy and the curriculum.

The school board is slated to discuss the "Animal Farm" issue again at its Feb. 9 meeting.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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