Sept. 28, 2014
Working toward a solution on book debate

Dear Highland Park ISD Parents,


In recent weeks, we have heard from hundreds of students, parents, employees, alumni and community members representing differing viewpoints on the debate over literature selection at Highland Park High School. I want you to know that we hear you.


In listening to our stakeholders, I have heard concerns about book selection and the processes surrounding it. The debate has been vigorous, and we agree that it is time to move forward on a constructive path that allows all voices to be heard and respected.


School Board President Leslie Melson, Principal Walter Kelly and I recently met with parent leaders with differing points of view at the same table. We engaged in constructive dialogue, and we recognize that there are still issues that need to be addressed. The process for selection and review of instructional materials needs to be strengthened, and we are committed to doing that in partnership with parents and teachers. 


Taking all viewpoints into consideration, I made the following decisions:

  • HPISD will strictly follow board Policy EFA (LOCAL) regarding the challenge and review of instructional materials. This is a reversal of the earlier decision I made to suspend seven titles that had come under question by hundreds of parents. I made the decision in an attempt to de-escalate the conflict, and I readily admit that it had the opposite effect. I take full responsibility for the decision, and I apologize for the disruption it has caused. 
  • All the titles that were temporarily suspended will be restored to the approved reading list.
  • HPISD will continue its work to provide greater transparency and inclusion of all viewpoints on literature review committees. In the past, the approved book list was used as an internal resource for faculty. Over the summer, it was audited for accuracy and updated. It has now been posted, along with the rationales detailing why a book or other literary resource was chosen for instruction. We have also put together a Q&A with more details about the process.
  • More information will be provided about literature that might contain potentially objectionable content. In such cases, a parent permission form will be sent home. If a parent expresses concern, an alternative piece of literature will be provided for his/her child. The goal is to provide all students with excellent reading material that meets the same instructional objectives. We are committed to ensuring that the process for providing alternative choices will meet the needs of every student and parent.
As of today, one formal request for reconsideration of instructional materials has been received by the district. The title that is being challenged is The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. HPISD will strictly follow the steps outlined in policy. 
  • A reconsideration committee will be appointed to review the book and make a recommendation concerning its use as an instructional resource. We anticipate that the committee will be made up of approximately 10 members including parents, faculty, staff and counselors representing diverse viewpoints. We are encouraged to see that several students are interested in serving, and we plan to include them, as well.
  • Access to challenged material will not be restricted during the reconsideration process, so the book will continue to be taught in the classroom until a formal decision has been reached. It will always be our goal to minimize the disruption to classroom instruction, and we will work with faculty to ensure that goal.

In conclusion, I want to thank all of our parents, employees and members of the HPISD community for sharing their heartfelt concerns. Our focus must always be on what is best for our students. We have made some real progress in building bridges and addressing a complex problem. I appreciate your commitment to doing what is best for our students and for this very special community.




Dr. Dawson Orr

Highland Park ISD Superintendent 

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