MUKILTEO — The seminal novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” will be removed from the required reading list for ninth-grade students in the Mukilteo School District.
The school board on Monday night made the unanimous decision after months of debate among Mukilteo district educators, students and parents. During a lengthy public comment period before the vote, speakers — mostly teachers and students — were nearly all in support of removing of the book from required reading.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee, written some 60 years ago, tells the story of a white lawyer defending a Black man wrongly accused of rape in Alabama in the 1930s. It uses dialogue of those eras, which today is regarded as inappropriate, including racial slurs. The removal from required reading was originally requested by three high school teachers. The board’s action does not ban the book from being taught.
At least two board members reread the book before Monday’s vote.
“I had a visceral reaction to the racism in the book and I can only imagine the pain and despair that any student might experience while reading it in class,” board member Judy Schwab said at the meeting.
Board member John Gahagan noted that removing “To Kill a Mockingbird” from the required reading list is not banning it.
“It is a very disturbing book … It’s a difficult book,” Gahagan said at the meeting. “I think it is a valuable learning experience for teachers who are capable to walk their students through it.”
Board President Michael Simmons, who is African American, said he reached his decision after talking with students, teachers, parents, friends and other non-district educators.
“As board members, we are faced with numerous decisions throughout our tenure and no decision is arrived at lightly or alone, we are a unit although we own our individual votes,” Simmons said in an email before the meeting.
Gahagan said via email before the meeting: “Frankly, this is a difficult decision for me — there are good points in favor of both sides of the issue. But after the vote, I will fully support whatever decision is made by a majority of the board.”
District Superintendent Alison Brynelson supported removing the book from the required ninth-grade reading list.
High school English teachers Verena Kuzmany, Riley Gaggero and Rachel Johnson asked in September that the book be removed from the required reading list. Reasons included it “celebrates white saviorhood,” “marginalizes characters of color” and “uses the ‘n’ word almost 50 times.”
The 20-member Instructional Materials Committee of staff and parents evaluated the removal request and recommended to the school board earlier this month that the novel not be required in the English curriculum, but that it should remain on the approved novels list for teachers to use.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” has been controversial for 60 years but remains required reading in many schools nationwide, though several districts have banned the book.