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Fairfax mom vows to take fight to remove novel 'Beloved' from schools to state education board

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Local,Virginia,Education,Rachel Baye

Fairfax County school officials have denied a parent's request to remove Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "Beloved" from the curriculum.

Now Laura Murphy, a mother of three Fairfax County Public Schools students and a fourth who graduated last year, is taking her plea to the state Board of Education.

"Beloved" tells the story of a former slave recalling the years before the American Civil War when she killed her 2-year-old daughter to prevent her daughter from living a life of slavery. Given the book's graphic depictions of slavery and racism -- including a scene of bestiality -- parents of students in Advanced Placement English classes at Lake Braddock Secondary School should have been warned at the start of the year that the book was on the reading list and been given the option of having their children opt out, said Murphy, who is the advanced academic chairwoman of the school's Parent Teacher Student Association.

The school system should maintain an "alternative book policy" allowing students to pick from a list of books with less graphic content to read and allowing students to be excused from discussions about books like "Beloved," "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison and "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy, all of which Murphy's oldest son read in his 12th-grade AP English class and all of which feature content like incest, rape, cannibalism and murder, Murphy said. A similar policy already exists for health classes.

Until the policy is developed, "Beloved" and similarly graphic material should be pulled from the classes, she said.

After Murphy's request was rejected by the school system's Instructional Services Department and Superintendent Jack Dale, Murphy appealed to the county School Board. But after eight board members read the book, School Board Chairman Ilryong Moon wrote in a letter dated Wednesday that the book will remain part of the school system's curriculum. Murphy said Thursday she has talked with officials with the state board about her plans to raise the issue there.

The Fairfax school system has not banned any books, although it has restricted some materials to be taught only to older students, according to schools spokeswoman Mary Shaw.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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