Letter From Concerned Parent / Response From Smyrna Superintendent
To whom it may concern,
This is the third time within one school year that I am reaching out regarding over sexualized and explicit material that has been deemed appropriate by Smyrna High School and the Smyrna School District.
The first time was regarding a history lesson that had a video assignment. In that assignment, there was a 20 second clip of women in bikinis, short length shorts and a man in a speedo. The background music in that clip was, “I see you baby, shaking that ass, shaking that ass, shaking that ass.” The teacher who assigned the lesson (that also had an explicit warning under it) stated he didn’t know where it came from. The principal, Mrs. Cook, was very dismissive and stated that out of the 50 minutes lesson, the questionable material was 20 seconds, but she would see about having it edited out. The clip can be provided upon request, along with the correspondence sent.
The second concern was the play 9 to 5 that is going to be performed by the high school’s drama club. This material is highly sexual, and has drinking and profanity throughout. I asked if staff had ensured that none of the students preforming had a history of being sexually abused as that material could trigger those memories. That, along with other questions, were never answered. Sadly, a child was greatly triggered by the sexual material in the play and was asked to leave by the teacher because the teacher was concerned for the student’s mental health.
The third concern is over the book my minor daughter was assigned to read in her Advanced Placement English class. The book is called Songs of Solomon by Toni Morrison. This book has been banned from high school curricula in several states, including Maryland. Other states require a written parental consent to provide such extremely explicit materials to minors.
My daughter brought the concerns to the teacher, who stated that she would like to talk to me and understand my concerns. Given the egregious content of the sexualized and demoralizing verbiage used, a better question to pose is what educator would think this material is even remotely appropriate in a high school setting? I find exposing my child to this is beyond disrespectful to her and her fellow students. To provide clear clarification of what my concerns are, I will allow the material to speak for itself. I apologize for the lude, explicit and distasteful language that you are about to read. If it makes you uncomfortable to read, imagine being a minor child. Or, imagine sitting there as a parent and reading this to your child. The excerpts below are just some of the many examples in this book to show just how completely inappropriate this material is. I have included the page numbers for easy reference, if you would like to look through the book yourselves.
1. Page 16: ” When Ruth was naked and lying there as moist and crumbly as unbleached sugar.”
2. Page 16: “He entered her and ejaculated quickly.”
3. Page 25; “I want to fuck! Send me up somebody to fuck! Hear me? Send me up somebody, I tell ya or I’ll blow my brains out.”
4. Page 25: “I am gonna shoot your balls to your throat.”
5. Page 64: Milkman was twenty-two then and since he had been fucking for six years, some of them the same woman.” (Speaking about his incestual relationship with his cousin Hagar)
6. Page 73: Laying next to him naked as a yard dog, kissing him. His dead and white and puffy and skinny and she had his fingers in her mouth. (Speaking about the character Ruth laying in bed with her deceased father)
7. Page 76: “That my Mama screwed her Daddy.”
8. Page 88: “Who cares if you fuck a white girl.”
9. Page 107: “Pussy and Honore parties.”
10. Page 127: “She toyed sometimes with her un-sucked breasts.”
11. Page 130 : “You can drive that knife smack into your cunt.”
12. Page 131: “Faggot” Guitar laughed. “White Faggot.”
13. Page 209: “Shame at being spread-eagle, fingered and handcuffed.” 14. Page 239: The gummy embrace he would wake with a scream and an erection. Now he only had an erection.”
15. Page 26: “And you, baby dicked baboon.”
16. Page 267: “You mean to tell me pussy different up North?” “Pussy the same everywhere. Smell like the ocean; taste like the sea.”
17. Page 267: “I never spent much time smacking my lips over another man’s dick.” Everybody smiled, including Milkman. It was about to begin. “What about his ass hole? Ever smack your lips over that? “Once,” said Milkman. When a little young nigger made me mad and I had to jam a Coke bottle up his ass.” “What’d you use a bottle for? Your cock wouldn’t fill it?” “It did. After I took the Coke bottle out. Filled his mouth too.”
Given the Smyrna School District’s statement about transparency, why are the parents and the students of the Smyrna High School not respected enough to, at minimum, ask for consent before spoon feeding, essentially, pornography to minors? My daughter is owed an apology and a refund for having to purchase this disgusting material with her own money. I ask that you immediately inform the other parents in this AP English class of the extremely and overly sexualized material that has been assigned for their children to read. A child could not distribute this type of material throughout the school without disciplinary action and educators should be held to a higher standard within the district.
What will be the action of the school and district to not only address this immediate concern, but to actually provide transparency on the over-sexualized and explicit material being provided and encouraged by the Smyrna School District? It is incredibly disheartening and disappointing that this is what standard you think our children and their parents should be held to.
You can contact me regarding these concerns via email. I also ask that my minor daughter not be questioned or spoken to regarding this without me present. Thank you for your time. Respectfully,
(Ms. Poore shared a response she received from Smyrna Superintendent of Schools Patrik Williams)
Dear Ms. Poore:
Thank you for contacting us with your concerns. I appreciate the opportunity to respond.
My understanding is that Mrs. Cook and Mrs. Judy, Assistant Superintendent, have worked with you to resolve the YouTube video and drama production concerns. If there is more to share, they remain available to work with you.
Smyrna High School is one of many high schools in our state to offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses with the curricular content established by the College Board. The title of the College Board’s senior English class is AP Literature and Composition, as you know, and the course includes Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Song of Solomon, among many other literary works that represent academic, cultural and generational diversity. The College Board annually determines the content of each AP examination, so each corresponding AP course must be directly aligned. The ultimate goal, of course, is to help each student score high enough on the AP exam to earn college credit. The College Board selects all of the material on the exam, and it is the College Board who lists Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon as a literary work students must be prepared to analyze. Ultimately, successfully completing any Advanced Placement course enhances a student’s chances of being accepted into a college of his/her choice with credits already earned, potentially saving our families thousands of dollars in tuition.
All of our AP courses at Smyrna High School are strictly voluntary, and students who sign up for them are introduced to postsecondary curricular content established by the College Board. Parents make the decision for their own students whether or not to enroll, and we are happy to accommodate their wishes. In short, there is no district requirement to take this particular course or any other AP course offered.
Finally, should you wish for your student to read an alternate work in lieu of Song of Solomon, please contact Mrs. McClain directly, as she will be able to offer a substitution that remains consistent with the College Board’s curriculum.