YORKVILLE – A parent’s objection to a book being used in a Yorkville High School English language course has resulted in a decision to give students in the class the choice of an alternative piece of literature.
Earlier this year, the parent of a student in the English II Rhetorical Analysis course complained about use of the book “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 teachers did nothing wrong,” Baughman said in an interview later. “They did a thoughtful job of putting together an engaging unit of study that met the objectives for our students.”
The parent appealed the decision to the Yorkville School District 115 board and in May the board discussed the matter in closed session before issuing a decision.
“The Board of Education acknowledges that using ‘Just Mercy’ as an anchor text to teach the English II unit was unintentionally controversial; therefore to ensure compliance with BOE policy the Board of Education is recommending adding a second text in addition to ‘Just Mercy’ as an option for students to choose,” according to a statement from the board.
Baughman said that the English II course is designed to engage students’ critical-thinking skills.
“You have to have a piece of literature that takes a strong position,” Baughman said.
Indeed, “Just Mercy” takes a hard look at America’s criminal justice system, by an author 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 actor Michael B. Jordan.
Baughman said the English II team of teachers will find another book that will be used as an alternative in the coming school year.
School Board President Darren Crawford said the board likely will review the alternate text for approval.
“I do see both sides for this,” Crawford said. “We’re just trying to give options.”