The Pitt County Board of Education voted Monday to require that parents be notified about books their children are assigned to read in class. The vote, taken in a special-called meeting, was in response to a complaint from a parent about sexually explicit content and profanity in books assigned to middle schoolers.

Seven school board members voted in favor of developing a parental notification policy, suggested by Vice Chairman Don Rhodes. District 5 representative Anna Barrett Smith was not present for the special-called meeting. Chairman James Tripp, who represents District 3, did not vote.

Parent Taylor Keith, who has voiced his objection to the teaching of Sharon M. Draper’s “Forged by Fire” and “Darkness Before Dawn,” and “All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, said he is not satisfied with the outcome and said the decision angered several parents.

“The school board today pretended that a policy already existed. That’s false,” Keith said. “That’s why we’re where we are. There is no policy in existence to protect the kids from books like this.”

Keith, who filed an objection in November to Ayden Middle School’s use of the books, appealed to the school board after a selection committee upheld a decision by the school that the books were in keeping with a district policy requiring instructional materials be appropriate for students’ maturity levels.

“Forged by Fire” includes a story line in which a girl is sexually abused by her father. In “Darkness Before Dawn,” the antagonist is a high school track coach who rapes student athletes. “All American Boys” deals with police brutality toward an innocent black teenager.

At Monday’s meeting, District 9 representative Benjie Forrest and District 6 representative Worth Forbes made several motions to address the books in question.

“We really need to pay attention on what materials we use as instruction from the standpoint that society today is becoming so dark in so many ways,” Forrest said. “We need at least to make sure that we’ve got instructional material as well that lifts up students and provides for their well being and hope and promise.”

Attempts to remove “All American Boys” from middle school media centers, which District 4 representative Rhodes also supported, or prohibit “Forged by Fire” and “Darkness Before Dawn” from being taught in middle school classrooms were unsuccessful.

In reference to “All American Boys,” Superintendent Ethan Lenker said about a dozen schools in the district had copies of the book in their media centers but said a Media and Technology Advisory Committee had determined the book should not be used as instructional material at the middle school level.

“All American Boys,” published in 2015, was third on the American Library Association list of the “Top 10 Most Challenged Books in 2020.”

At a school board work session prior to the meeting, District Media Specialist Meredith Hill told the board that seven titles have been challenged in Pitt County Schools in the last decade.


The list of challenged books, provided by request to The Daily Reflector, includes: Earl Sewell’s “Myself and I, Carl Dueker’s “Gym Candy,” John Hamilton’s “Behind the Terror,” and Lauren Myracle’s “Kissing Kate.”

Hill said media coordinators rely on professional reviews to decide which books to add to a school library collection and said they do not have access to the books before purchase them. She said current district policies give parents the ability to request alternate assignments for their children if they object to the content of assigned books.

Kimberly Lucas, district specialist for middle grades English language arts, showed the board a sample letter that teachers could use to alert parents to potentially sensitive topics included in an upcoming literature assignment.

But Keith said in an interview that he did not receive such a letter from his daughter’s teacher.

“I’ve spoken to probably 20 parents since I’ve left that meeting,” he said. “No one’s ever seen that letter. If that letter was sent out and it said this book said the F word 20 times in it, the book would have been appealed before it got read. The book about a pedophile raping his daughter would have been appealed before it got read.”

Ayden Middle School eighth-grader Mason Paramore attended the meeting on Monday, which was a remote learning day for students following a weekend snowstorm. Mason, 14, said in an interview that he was uncomfortable reading “Forged by Fire” in class.

“We all felt the same way,” he said. “We know things like that go on in the world, and we know that there are bad people out there, but we don’t have to read about it.”

Following Keith’s objection in the fall, school officials said, Ayden Middle’s English-language arts teachers reconsidered assigned reading and canceled plans to read the remainder of “Forged by Fire,” along with “Darkness Before Dawn,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “All American Boys” and “Night.”

But Keith said Monday that what he considered as the board’s attempt to appease him missed the point.

“It didn’t even help Ayden Middle School next year,” he said. “If somebody wants to put it in front of somebody else’s daughter, they still can.”

Keith said Pitt County Schools’ libraries contain numerous explicit books that are inappropriate for students. He declined to name specific titles but said he plans to present examples at next month’s Board of Education meeting.

Contact Kim Grizzard at kgrizzard@reflector.com or call 329-9578.