Monday, March 05, 2007

Morse : Howell Schools didn't break law

From the Argus

Morse: Books don’t break law

County Prosecutor David Morse has ruled that the books causing a controversy at Howell High School do not violate any state law.

He was asked to investigate several books by Vicki Fyke of the Livingston Organization for Values in Education last month. But in a letter to Fyke sent Monday, Morse said the teachers disseminating the books are exempt from laws against distribution of sexually explicit material to minors because the curriculum was approved by the Howell Public Schools Board of Education.


I think Dave Morse and his staff handled this well. While the paper, which has a clear agenda on this, will give him hell for waiting a couple of weeks, I'm glad he and his staff took their time to research the facts and did not make a rash decision.

I didn't look at the school code since it would take too much time. Morse believed that the exception covered the law. He also covered the non-exemption and used a standard similar to the legal definition of pornography. He either read the statute different than I did, wanted to use that standard to gain a conviction if he prosecuted, or wanted to make sure it could survive a constitutional challenge. I do not know which. There is no legal case law on the state level that I saw defining "explicit matter." An attorney I know has the following saying to gun owners when there is a unclear law "Don't be a test case". It looked as Morse was cautious here and did not want Howell Schools and Livingston County to be a test case. I agree with him on his decision not to prosecute as I do not believe it would withstand a constitutional challenge. I'll take his word for it on the school code exemption as I was not sure of that and didn't have enough time to find out.

I have not read the federal statutes. If I have extra time, I will.

As for appropiateness of the books themselves for school curriculum - I believe some are and some are not. I do not believe "Bluest Eye" belongs as part of the curriculum. I don't have a problem with "Slaughterhouse 5". My own stance is somewhere in the middle between the LOVE Group and the School Board. My major problem is with the process involved in the approval. All the reviews are from "professionals" and from the ivory towers and there is not the checks and balances from the citizenry. If there was, I doubt we would have the controversey to begin with and we can get back to the meat and potatoes issues facing the schools - budgetary and financial concerns. I also think part of this was due to personal animosity between the Board/Admins and LOVE Group. If all sides got together and sat down and discussed these matters coming to an agreement, I don't think this would have been the media circus it turned out to be. A little leadership, especially by the school, would have gone a long way.

At worst, this was a good learning experience for law school.


Curley Sue said...

We’re pleased that our county prosecuting attorney agreed with us that these books do contain sexually explicit content, and we understand, as well, that because the entire book is not sexually explicit, it may not violate the law. Mr. Morse’s legal opinion does not mean that urging 15 year olds to read a sexually explicit account of a man raping his 11-year old daughter is appropriate material in our public schools. It just means that, in his opinion, it’s not illegal.

We agree that the school board is responsible for judging whether explicit child rape passages are appropriate for young teens, and we hope that a future school board will agree that they are not.

We’re confident that most parents in Howell would agree if they actually read these passages, but many parents have not had the opportunity to read them because they’re too sexually explicit to be published in the newspaper. That, by itself, should send a message about the nature of the material and its appropriateness.

We will wait for the opinion of the State Attorney General and the findings of the Federal Bureau of Investigation before we decide what our next step will be.

Republican=Conservative said...

Well I would have to go with the post...only some of the books should be allowed. I myself have children in Howell Public Schools and I do not want them reading those books. However, my personal beliefs should not be pushed on others.

Communications guru said...

There is no “sexually explicit account of a man raping his 11-year old daughter” in either “The Bluest Eye” or “Black Boy.” Now, I have not read the other books yet, but there is no explicit rape scene in those two books.

You are going to have to wait a long time or find a very backward school board to find one that favors censoring Nobel and Pulitzer-winning literature. You might try Mississippi or Alabama.

There is no way the newspaper can publish entire novels, nor should they. Using cherry pickled words and phrases is wrong, and it does not even come close to truly reflecting the work. I can show you all kinds of descriptions of rapes in the newspaper, and they are no more explicit than the one you are lying about in the “Bluest Eye.” You also, of course, neglect to mention children of all ages read the newspaper, not just 11tth graders in AP English.

How can Mike’s Cox’s opinion be any different that David Morse’s opinion? When they all agree with Morse, and they will, when are you going to give up this witch-hunt? Haven’t you embarrassed this community enough? Can the community expect an apology when your censorship drive is thwarted?

Bachbone said...

"You are going to have to wait a long time or find a very backward school board to find one that favors censoring Nobel and Pulitzer-winning literature. You might try Mississippi or Alabama."

Oh, really?

Midland, MI banned Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice in 1980 because of its treatment of the character Shylock, a Jew. (Midland hardly has what I'd call a "backward school board.")

Union School District, Anaheim, CA, banned Gone with the Wind for its portrayal of Scarlett O'Hara's behavior toward freed slaves. (Anaheim, CA is a backward area?)

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn have been banned in the Brooklyn Public Library system and Concord, MA, neither of which can fairly be called "backward" areas.

Seems that Mississippi and Alabama are no more "backward," other than in some people's minds, than parts of Michigan, California, Massachusetts or New York.

Communications guru said...

I'm afraid you are right.