GILFORD — The parent of a Gilford High School student who raised objections to what he called a pornographic passage in a book, "Nineteen Minutes" which was assigned to his daughter's ninth grade honors English class was arrested last night for failing to leave the meeting when ordered to by Gilford Police Lt. James Leach.
William Baer, who moved here recently from New Jersey, said he was "outraged" when he found out about the passage and said that it was beyond comprehension that the board would allow a book with that kind of passage to be read by high schoolers.
He challenged Superintendent Kent Hemingway to read a copy of the controversial passage aloud at the public input session of last night's meeting. But Sue Allen, School Board chairman, who had earlier set a limit of two minutes on public input on the issue and ruled that no one could speak a second time, said no one from the board or administration would be reading any material submitted at the meeting aloud.
Baer's arrest came after he was asked to leave the meeting after interrupting a statement made by a Joe Wernig, a parent who supported having the book on the school's reading list and suggested that if Baer and other critics had their way ''these people will be dictating what we can and cannot read.''
That prompted Baer to interrupt and say ''that's absurd'' and defend the criticism as justified. When Lt. Leach asked him to leave, Baer asked as Leach approached him ''am I under arrest?'' He was escorted into the hall outside the meeting room and handcuffed before being led outside to a police cruiser.
Hemingway, Allen and Gilford High School Principal Peter Sawyer last Friday issued an informational statement to local media in which they said that students in English classes at the high school were assigned "Nineteen Minutes" on Monday, April 28. The statement said that the book, written by New Hampshire author Jodi Picoult, has been a selection open to high school staff since 2007, the year it was published.
The statement described the book as of "thematic importance," noting that it contains scenes of physical and sexual violence.
The statement reminds parents of the school district's policies, which refer to the procedures bearing on controversial material.
The officials said that when "Nineteen Minutes" was assigned in past years, parents were notified for their approval and conceded this procedure was not followed last week. A statement was sent to parents yesterday notifying them of the book and its content and acknowledging the oversight.
Following last night's meeting, the board issued a statement apologizing for the discomfort of those impacted and for the failure of the School District to send home prior notice of assignment of the novel.
The board said the district will take immediate action to revise these policies to include notification that requires parents to accept controversial material rather than opt out and that the notification will detail more specifically the controversial material.
Other parents supported Baer's stance. Sarah Carrignan said that she was ''utterly appalled that this was acceptable. My son should never have had the book in his hand'' and said that the waiver sent home which would allow their children to read the book was ''garbage.''
Baer's wife, Barbara, said that when she found the passage in the book that was being read by her 14-year-old daughter she was shocked. ''I'm speechless, I really am that this was allowed.'' she said.
But when Joe Wernig defended discussion of the book and said that his daughters had read it and that he had even met Picoult when she was in Gilford before the book was published. He said the book had provoked meaningful discussion which he thought was valuable with his daughters.
''It made my daughters feel uncomfortable and they wanted to have a discussion with me,'' said Wernig, who took a shot at critics of the book by saying they were trying to dictate what could be read in the schools.
Doug Lambert later read the offending page, which described a sex act between teenagers, and later in the meeting, when a second public input session was held, read a passage from the Bible which said that those who sinned against the innocent be cast into the sea with a millstone around their neck.
''That's what's coming for all of you. You're all going to pay for this,'' said Lambert, who said he was glad he no longer had children in the Gilford school system.