BEND, OR -- Bend-La Pine Schools is responding to controversy over a book selected for a statewide competition. George, the story of a transgender girl, is included on the 2018-19 Oregon Battle of the Books ("OBOB") reading list for third through fifth graders. The selection has prompted several districts to rethink their participation in the popular event.
OBOB organizers choose a list of titles for students to read. They're divided into three divisions: third through fifth grade, sixth through eighth grade, and high school. Students compete against other kids in school-wide, district and state contests, based on their knowledge and comprehension of each book. "Bend-La Pine Schools does not require students to participate, nor do schools require participation of students," says Julianne Repman, with the district, "It's a voluntary program through the Oregon Association of School Libraries."
For the first time, the youngest Bend-La Pine Schools participants will need parental permission to take part, "Bend-La Pine Schools believes that partnering with families is a good approach for determining whether Oregon Battle of the Books is a good fit for students," Repman tells KBND News, "The district has decided to require that any elementary students participating in the Battle of the Books have parent permission; and that will begin next fall."
Repman acknowledges some are concerned about elementary school children reading about transgender issues. "That is one of the reasons, or perhaps the reason we've decided to take a step back and take a look at the program as a whole, and decided that we wanted to partner with parents; it's always the best practice." She says parental permission will not be necessary for middle and high school OBOB participants.
Last week, the Hermiston School District and Cascade, south of Salem, announced they won't take part in the state event, due to George. Those students will compete in school and district-wide contests without the book. A handful of other districts are still evaluating their response.