Saratoga Springs

Parent group presses Saratoga Springs school district 6 months after concerns over explicit content were first raised

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SARATOGA SPRINGS Nearly six months after a Saratoga Springs High School teacher assigned reading that some parents deemed sexually explicit and inappropriate, a parent group is once again raising the issue.

The matter has already been resolved through conversations between the one parent who complained publicly, the teacher and the high school principal, according to Michael Patton, superintendent of the Saratoga Springs City School District, prompting Patton to question the motives of the parent group, Excellence in Education for Saratoga.

“We’re going back to October, so I don’t know why it’s being brought up now going into May. It was something that was dealt with,” Patton said Monday.

This tussle over school curriculum content in Saratoga Springs comes as textbooks and other school materials are being debated nationwide.

The parent group, Excellence in Education for Saratoga, is concerned that teacher Damian Ubriaco assigned ninth grade English students to read Tracey Baptiste’s short story “Gravity,” which is about a sexual assault and uses sexual language that upsets the parents. The reading was assigned in October, but the parent group, which has a core group of about a dozen parents, according to Sharon Dominguez – who said she is one of the group’s leaders and a parent of students in the high school – is asking for more transparency. Dominguez was not the parent to make the original public complaint. The parent group’s Facebook page had 141 likes and 176 followers at press time. The Facebook page was created in February.

“We would like to know what disciplinary action was taken by the administration. But more importantly, we would like to know what specific policies, protocols and procedures are being put into place to ensure that this kind of content isn’t distributed to students in the future,” Dominguez said. “Parents have the right to know what’s going on in the schools and the administration and Board of Education should be attempting to remedy these concerns rather than ignore them.”

Patton said no disciplinary action was taken in response to the October issue and that the matter was resolved through dialogue. He encouraged all parents who have concerns with classroom material to reach out directly to the classroom teacher.

“Call your classroom teacher – they are your No. 1 source of information,” Patton said. “As a district, we’re trying to be as transparent as possible and make our materials and our coursework available so parents, if they want to spend the time previewing the information, they can do that.”

Patton also said teachers are encouraged to share classroom materials in advance and explain to students and families how materials fit into a given lesson, providing time for families to determine if that lesson is appropriate for them.

“It does allow us to be reflective any time parent concerns are brought forward just to make sure when we’re working with material that may be sensitive or potentially controversial there are steps that the teacher should consider,” Patton said.

This issue in Saratoga Springs is part of a larger national debate happening over school curriculum. For instance, earlier this month, the Florida Department of Education rejected dozens of math textbooks objecting to the inclusion of social-emotional learning and critical race theory. In addition, the most challenged books of 2021 tell the stories of Black and LGBTQ people or are written by authors who identify as being part of those communities, according to the American Library Association.

Tracey Baptiste, a New York Times best-selling author, was born in Trinidad and moved to Brooklyn when she was 15, according to a Simon & Schuster profile.

“I think there is so much more attention now – nationally, not just here,” Patton said. “Textbooks, lesson materials and supporting documentation that’s used in our classrooms are being much more scrutinized than I think they ever have been.”

In this case, the parent group is concerned about the story’s use of specific phrases that are sexually explicit and/or use a derogatory word for female genitalia.

One parent raised the issue at the Saratoga Springs City School District’s Board of Education meetings in October and November, and the district has not since been adequately open about its response, said Dominguez.

“Parents in our group raised this issue back in the fall. The district has not followed up with any communication about actions taken to both rectify and prevent this type of thing from happening in the future,” she said. “This issue fits with the mission of our group, which is to improve transparency in curriculum and supplemental curriculum materials for Saratoga school district parents,” she said.

These parental concerns follow the April 12 school board meeting when fewer than 10 parents publicly addressed the board with their worries about violence in the high school after a video depicting fighting circulated online. Patton said the video made the school violence appear worse than it is, while parents said school district leaders don’t have a full grasp of the fighting and drug use going on in the schools.

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

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Categories: News, Saratoga County, Saratoga Springs

One Comment

“part of a larger national debate happening over school curriculum.”
Wrong, Mr. Waite. Our public education as a whoie is under siege. A debate would imply a desire to come to consensus. We are experiencing an organized faction of the population, many without even having any kids in the schools, that are attempting to force their minority view on the rest of us.
That’s not editorializing, that’s truth and the facts, please report it as such. There’s nothing “normal” about it and that should be honestly reported as such.

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