YORKVILLE – Students in Yorkville High School’s English II Rhetorical Analysis class will not be using the book “Just Mercy” as part of their coursework after all.
The Yorkville school board has reversed its decision to allow teachers to use the book as an anchor text for the class.
Earlier this year, the parent of a student in the English II course complained about use of “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson, triggering the district’s uniform grievance procedure.
Associate Superintendent Nick Baughman investigated the complaint and determined that no board policy had been violated.
A letter to that effect was sent to the parent over the signature of then-Superintendent Tim Shimp. The parent appealed the decision.
At its May 22 meeting, the school board decided that teachers should give students in the class the choice of an alternative piece of literature, while allowing “Just Mercy” to remain as the anchor text.
But at its Aug. 7 meeting, the board changed its decision on a 4-2 vote, directing that the book may no longer be used in the course, although it will continue to be available in the school library.
Those voting in favor of removing the book from the class included board President Darren Crawford and board members Jason Demas, Mike Knoll and Mike Houston. Those voting no were board members Leslie Smogor and Shawn Schumacher. Board member Jason Senffner was absent.
“Just Mercy” is a memoir that takes a hard look at America’s criminal justice system, by an attorney who dedicated himself to defending the poor and disadvantaged.
Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization in Montgomery, Alabama.
His memoir was published in 2014 and made into a 2019 movie starring Michael B. Jordan.
According a statement released by Crawford as well as the meeting minutes, Knoll and Houston deemed the book “too controversial.”
The course is designed to engage students’ critical thinking skills.
A district spokesman said the English department is working on the selection of a new anchor text for the class.