Parent: Homework With Slurs Crossed the Line

The superintendent of schools in Greenwich is defending a handout middle school students received of literary passages containing racial, ethnic and gender slurs and said it was part of a homework assignment.

The handout was issued as part of a project with the American Library Association's Banned Books Week in early October and was meant to get students to think about why certain literary classics are considered taboo, Sidney Freund, the superintendent of schools, told the Greenwich Time.

"They're all (from) books that are in our library that any child can read," Freund told the paper. "The quotes are being read by kids out of context on purpose. What we try to do always in school is we present things with opposing viewpoints."

Some parents think the assignment crossed the line.

"I feel as a parent of a seventh-grader that words that start with the letter 'F' and are four letters in duration and that words that start with letter 'N' and are six letters in duration are inappropriate," Gary Cella, the father of an 11-year-old Central Middle School student, said. "Like many parents, I said, 'Let's go over your homework.' When I saw this, I literally stopped in my tracks and did the classic double-take. It's not something you expect from any school."

Cella said he was so disturbed by the content that he called Freund's office and was referred to Shelley Somers, the Central Middle School principal.

Freund said the handout was part of a broader project in which the students were expected to read from one of the works on the ALA's banned book list and do a persuasive essay or presentation on the subject of censorship. Freund says the school district has never received any complaints about the exercise in years past. He did however, open the door to changes in light of the controversy.

The Time left seeking comment from Somers and from Anthony Mangano, the teacher who gave the assignment to Cella's daughter on Tuesday at the school.

"My caution would be in the future, if we're doing this and prior to doing it, is a letter to parents letting them know what we're doing and explaining the lessons since there was some obvious concern related to this," Freund said. "Some tempering of the quotes could be made, and we would not lose the essence of the message that we're trying to deliver to the kids about censorship. But overall, the lesson in the unit is a good one."

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