FNSB School District headquarters

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Administrative Center is seen Wednesday, June 17, 2020, in downtown Fairbanks. Caitlin Miller/News-Miner

A new high school English Language Arts Curriculum passed in a narrow 4-3 vote of the school board Tuesday following a year of discussions, four revisions, hundreds of emails, and hours of spoken testimony.

Eleventh and 12th graders will need to take a writing class in place of an elective to graduate, starting with this year’s freshman class under the new curriculum, which adds three new literature classes and updates existing classes with bigger reading lists and more flexiblity, according to Melanie Hadaway, director of Teaching and Learning with the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.

One new elective, “Social Themes in Literature,” will explore stories written by women, Native Americans, African Americans/Africans, Latinx, Asian/Asian Americans and LGBTQ+ people as the school district continues an effort to acknowledge and welcome students from all walks of life.

“What’s very very important,” said school board President Tim Doran, “is that the students can see themselves in the works that they are reading.”

In a previous version of the curriculum, a proposed LGBTQ+ literature class drew controversy. Hadaway said some people thought a lifestyle was being promoted to students, “which this curriculum does not in any way do.”

“I think that some people forget that Walt Whitman was not necessarily writing about women,” Hadaway said.

Doran said the latest batch of emails from parents and others to the school board about the curriculum was largely in support of its passage with 80 writers approving of it and five opposing it.

The no votes on the board came from Matthew Sampson, Maggie Matheson and April Smith.

Sampson, as father of two high school students, said the curriculum material is not so bad. It will probably be interesting for students but he doesn’t like the idea of offering an elective class that makes people in the community uncomfortable.

He said curriculum changes should have broad community consensus. He said the school district is worried about money from decreased enrollment and now is not the time to add classes.

“I can almost fully agree with the fact that children who see themselves reflected in classmates, staff and course content will perform better in that class,” Sampson wrote in a text message.

“When one finds strong resistance from the community,” he said, “the policy should not move forward.”

Doran said the curriculum writers changed it multiple times to address critics.

The books “Stone Butch Blues” and “Confessions of a Fox” were removed after public outcry.

“There were some very valid criticisms,” Doran said. “The final product was really well vetted. It really provides a lot more options for students while also making sure we meet the state standards.”

The reading list for the “Social Themes in Literature” class includes authors Rita Dove, Dorothy Chan, Federico Garcia Lorca, Mary Oliver, Sojourner Truth, Gary Soto, Hafiz, Sappho and more.

For the class, students must read two-to-four books and three-to-five articles, essays, speeches, short stories, poetry or other shorter written pieces. The reading lists are suggested.

“Teachers may select from the book lists of other literature courses not presently offered at their schools (or in collaboration with their colleagues),” the course description states.

Another curriculum change is that a British literature requirement was made optional.

American literature is still required and the new curriculum has two new classes: “American Literature: Defining Freedom” and “American Literature: Shifting Dreams” with reading lists that include “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” by Harriot Jacobs and “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder.

Books by J.D. Salinger, Lorraine Hansberry, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck are on the suggested reading list for the shifting dreams literature class.

The new writing class requirement for grades 11 or 12 is to ensure that students have at least one writing class before graduation, Hadaway said.

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.

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