One middle school is removing “Dragonwings” from sixth grade classes as a group presses to have Blount County Schools pull the historical novel about Chinese immigrants’ experience districtwide.

Union Grove Middle School told parents Friday, Feb. 11, that it is changing its English language arts curriculum following a review of the book that was prompted by a parent complaint that it is inappropriate. Students will move ahead to materials usually read in the fourth nine weeks.

Blount County Schools confirmed Friday, Feb. 11, that another of its four middle schools has received a request for review of the same book under Policy 4.403, Reconsideration of Instructional Materials and Textbooks.

Also 43 of the district’s 754 sixth graders had received an alternate reading assignment, which parents may request under Policy 4.801, Controversial Materials.

David Coleman of Friendsville, who requested the review at UGMS, said the other request for review was filed at Carpenters Middle School.

“For me this is a philosophical stance,” he said. “For me it was bigger than just my daughter.”

Coleman said while he’s very happy with the process at UGMS, he will continue to push for the Blount County Board of Education to “take ownership of the decision that was made” when it adopted the state-approved curriculum in 2020. “This is their problem to deal with,” he said.

Objections

“This book is not appropriate for any American student,” Coleman wrote last month in his request for review of “Dragonwings.”

He and others who called for its removal during a Blount County school board meeting this month cite the novel’s use of the terms such as “white demon,” curse words, violence, drug use and prostitution in describing the experience of an 8-year-old boy and his family in San Francisco in the early 1900s.

They also say it violates a state law passed last year that lists 14 “prohibited concepts” in instruction, such as that one race or sex is inherently superior to another or that an individual’s moral character is determined by race or sex.

Coleman said if a line is not drawn in the sand, “We’re going to continue down the woke CRT agenda.”

Author Laurence Yep’s novel received the Newbery Honor from the American Library Association in 1976 and the Phoenix Award from the Children’s Literature Association in 1995.

Parent involvement

Coleman is asking BCS for documentation of who was involved in selecting the Expeditionary Learning materials that include “Dragonwings” in 2020.

BCS Policy 4.400 says, “The Director of Schools shall establish a procedure for providing citizens of the community with an opportunity to examine proposed textbooks and instructional materials prior to their final adoption, including public notice of the time and location at which textbooks and instructional materials may be examined. Once approved by the Board, the Director of Schools shall post the list of all approved textbooks and instructional materials on the school district’s website and send a copy of the list to the Commissioner of Education.”

So far BCS has not provided documentation that happened when the materials including “Dragonwings” were adopted.

“The system has fundamentally broken down,” Coleman said.

He is working with the group Smoky Mountain Parents Involved in Education and set up two websites last week.

An online petition calling for immediate removal of “Dragonwings” from “required coursework at all Blount County Schools,” at http://bcspetition.com/, had more than 120 signatures by Friday night, Feb. 11.

During a meeting last week on criteria for the next director of Blount County Schools, Coleman said he talked to teachers who told him they were afraid that they would lose their jobs if they completed an anonymous online survey about that topic. So another site Smoky Mountain PIE set up, bcsteacherconcerns.com, encourages Blount County teachers to submit concerns anonymously. “Based on what we have accomplished so far, we are convinced that if we had known more things ahead of time, we (the parents) could have stepped in to help,” the site says.

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Education Reporter

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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