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‘Vulgar’ poem sparking controversy in Steamboat Springs classroom

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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – A Steamboat Springs family is considering legal action against the school district there after they say their teenage daughter was forced to read, write and discuss sexually explicit material as part of a class assignment.

The content in question is the poem “Howl” by author Allen Ginsburg. It has been considered controversial since it was first published in the 1950’s due to its language about sex and drugs. It was even the focus of an obscenity trial in 1957, in which the judge ruled that it was could stay on bookshelves.

“The second we started reading the book it just went south,” Steamboat Springs High School junior Skylar Cason told FOX31.

The poem uses words that cannot be repeated here. However, in the classroom, Skylar says she and her classmates had to write and say the censored words out loud.

“It was so filled with sexual content that I wasn’t aware of and I wasn’t prepared for,” she said.

According to Skylar, the teacher never warned the students about the sensitive and mature nature of the material.

“She came home and shared it with us and of course as a parent the way we’ve raised our kids I was like, there’s no way a teacher in a public school would have done this,” Skylar’s father Brett said.

The district has a policy in place allowing for controversial and mature material to be used in the classroom. However, in each case the material is to be approved by the building’s principal and parents may have to be notified prior to the lesson.

“It’s their responsibility to come to us as parents and say, hey we’re going to talk about some controversial material here. If you want to opt out here’s your opt out form and we’ll give you an alternate assignment,” Brett said.

However, parents were not made aware of the material before it was assigned to their children.

“A lot of the kids, you know, were scared to say anything to their parents because it was so awkward and just weird,” Brett said.

In a letter to the Casons, Skylar’s teacher apologized saying, “I’m sure you felt blindsided by the opening assignments and I should have made this exceedingly clear to all involved parties.”

Steamboat Springs School District RE-2 Superintendent Brad Meeks issued a statement saying, in part:

“A review committee has been looking into the teaching of “Howl and Other Poemsand, while it has determined that it will continue to be part of the curriculum, it also determined that parents were not given advance notice that would have allowed them to opt their child out of participating when it was part of the curriculum this fall. For that, we apologize.

"We are working to ensure that all of our teachers are aware of proper procedures around incorporating controversial materials and follow them. Students who choose not to engage in the material will be given an alternative assignment.

"We do believe that what occurred this fall was simply an oversight as a result of not understanding the policy. We regret if members of our community were offended.”

The Casons have enlisted help from religious liberty attorney Jeremy Dys. On Monday, Dys sent a letter to the district outlining the complaints surrounding “Howl” and its use in the Steamboat Springs classroom.

In the letter, they demand a written apology from the teacher to all of the parents in the class, that all SSSD staff receive two hours of training regarding the use of controversial materials, two hours of sensitivity training regarding parental rights in public education and two hours of sensitivity training concerning the protection of student religious liberty and the rights of conscience.

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