Judson Superintendent Ed Lyman has pulled a critically acclaimed novel from the district's Advanced Placement English curriculum after a parent complained she found it sexually explicit and offensive to Christians.
Lyman overruled the recommendation of a committee of teachers, students and a parent when he agreed to remove "The Handmaid's Tale" by Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood from the curriculum.
He made the decision even though district policy allows parents who object to reading material to request their children be given an alternative assignment.
The committee that approved its use has appealed Lyman's decision to the school board, which is to render a decision at its regularly scheduled meeting Thursday.
Lyman said he found some of the descriptions in the book too sexually explicit for high school students. He said his beliefs as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints didn't influence his decision.
"The tone of the book does not support, in my opinion, the effort by our state Legislature to encourage abstinence outside the bonds of marriage," said Lyman, who came to Judson less than a year ago from Ingleside, where he also was superintendent.
"The Handmaid's Tale," published in 1985 and made into a film starring Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall, tells the story of an environmentally blighted United States after a coup.
Civil war rages as a fundamentalist Christian regime revokes all women's rights and presses the few who remain fertile into sexual slavery as breeders, called handmaids, for infertile couples.
The novel takes the form of a memoir written by one of the handmaids.
The novel won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the Los Angeles Times Best Fiction Award and was short-listed for the Ritz Hemingway Prize and the Booker Prize for Fiction.
The Handmaid's Tale "is about rights being taken away," said Jacque Middleton, chairman of the Judson High School English department. "Eerily, we are feeling the same thing. Our rights and our students' rights have been taken away."
Cindy Pyo, who said she holds degrees in English, Bible and education, requested her son be given an alternative assignment, a request the school honored. He and a handful of other students in the class read Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" instead of "The Handmaid's Tale," she said.
That wasn't solution enough for Pyo, who said Tuesday that she feels it's her duty to ensure no student be able to read "The Handmaid's Tale" in class.
"I have a responsibility to the country and our community to speak up for the values that will strengthen our society," she said.
The Judson Independent School District wouldn't be the first to ban the book, which is widely used in AP English classrooms across the nation.
"The Handmaid's Tale" made the American Library Association's "10 Most Challenged Books of 1999" and is No. 37 on the ALA's "100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000."
Judith Krug, director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, said "The Handmaid's Tale" definitely has an undercurrent of sex, "but it's not explicit," she said. "It's implied. Those kids understand it."
Even as the book is being challenged, it also is being used more frequently because teachers are trying to bring in contemporary, well-written material that interests students, Krug said.
"They're dealing with real literature," she said. "These are kids who are about to step into the real world." She added: "These are people who are going to be voting soon."
Robert Cimmino defended the novel as a cautionary tale. He is a student who sat on the committee that denied Pyo's request to ban the book.
"The society in the novel believes that if the women could have any sort of autonomy then the women will rise up from their oppressive state," he wrote in the evaluation committee members prepared. "This extreme censorship is meant to scare the reader into realizing the forms of censorship that exist in our society. Attempting to ban this novel is doing exactly what the book professes to be wrong."
Middleton said the book was added to Judson's curriculum for AP English, considered a college level course, about 10 years ago.
Through the years, some parents have requested an alternative reading assignment for their children. But until now no one has formally challenged the book, which she said is one of the few that addresses a feminist viewpoint in an anti-utopian genre, she said.
Lyman, who said he has read "80 (percent) to 90 percent," of the book, said school board members have been reading it and will be prepared to make a decision at Thursday's meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the board room, in the district's administrative offices at 8012 Shin Oak Drive in Live Oak.
Trustee June Adair said she's not sure how the board will vote and wanted to make sure she hears from all sides before making a decision.
Trustee Johnny Harris said he wants the book reinstated.
"I believe in this day and time you can't shield children from the realities of the media they're exposed to," he said. "We have access to much more harmful material by turning on the TV or the radio."