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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Libertarian Trustee Westwell Opposes Attempt To Ban Book

Libertarian Norm Westwell, the president of the Ocean View School District’s board of trustees, opposed a recent unsuccessful attempt to ban a book from the district's middle schools. From an Oct. 31 article by Annie Burris in the Orange County Register:

Former Westminster School District Trustee Judy Ahrens and Ocean View School District trustee John Briscoe are spearheading the effort to ban Angelou's book "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Ahrens read a rape scene of an 8-year-old girl from the book during a trustee meeting Oct. 6 to demonstration on why the book should be banned. The best-seller is the first volume of Angelou's autobiographical series and was the third most challenged book in schools during the 1990s, according to the American Library Association.

After the Oct. 6 presentation, school board members directed the superintendent to review the book and the process by which a book is admitted to the library. Rasmussen also pulled the book from the middle school libraries and asked the district's book review panel to reconsider the book.

Ahrens and Briscoe made a similar presentation at an Oct. 20 City Council meeting urging community members to lobby the Ocean View school board to ban the book. The meeting was broadcast live on the city's cable channel.

School board President Norm Westwell said he was appalled. "It seems to me that you want to raise the flag, wave the banner, say, 'Hey look at me. I'm Trustee Briscoe and I can make people do what they don't want to do,'" Westwell said. "That is not what this job about. This job is about educating our children and spending taxpayer money wisely... In my opinion, you aren't doing either one."  Westwell's comments were met with applause from the audience. Briscoe did not respond to the accusations during the meeting.

The book has been at the Ocean View middle schools since 1995 and has been checked out five times. It can only be checked out by eighth-graders, Rasmussen said.

A Nov. 3 OC Register article by Burris reported the outcome of the dispute:

A district superintendent decided Tuesday night to keep Maya Angelou's autobiography in middle school libraries but added a restriction that parents must provide consent for student to check out the book.

"The book is a good read ... for an adult. It is inappropriate for boys and girls," said Briscoe after the superintendent's decision. "The solution proposed by the administration is an admirable start. There are a few things more that need to be done."

An Oct. 20 OC Register article by Burris said this about Briscoe (who is a Libertarian):

Briscoe, who headed up the presentation, said he and Ahrens went to the City Council to publicize a matter of interest to the community. "I am here to speak on behalf of the helpless children currently subject to inappropriate reading material in our local public schools," he said. Briscoe said he had asked the Ocean View district to remove the book from its library but was met with resistance.

Since being elected to the board in 2006, Briscoe has continually challenged the district – from attempting to censure a board president to creating a Web site that copied the district's official site. The district has spent more than $27,000 in legal fees answering his questions about the district and its schools.

In 1998 he sued then-Mayor Peter Green and the city, claiming they violated his free-speech rights. The lawsuit alleged that the mayor infringed on his First Amendment rights by attempting to turn off the microphone and cutting the HBTV channel 3 live-broadcast transmission as he was making public comments at a City Council meeting. The city settled with Briscoe and paid his attorney fees of $1,400.

On Monday, Briscoe warned the audience about the passage Ahrens would read and asked Mayor Keith Bohr to stop the reading if it was too explicit. Bohr did not stop the reading, saying it wasn't his place to limit freedom of speech. City Attorney Jennifer McGrath said Briscoe's First Amendment rights could have been violated if the city tried to stop him. The city will replay the meeting on their Web site surfcity-hb.org without censure, she said.

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