The Natrona County School District board of trustees on Monday voted 9-2 to support a decision to not restrict two controversial books in high schools dealing with drug abuse and other dangerous activities.

The vote underscored the divide between two trustees -- Jenifer Hopkins and Mary Schmidt -- and the rest of the trustees.

This dispute began in January when the district received two formal requests of reconsidering library materials for five different books written by Ellen Hopkins, according to a March 23 memo involving the "Reconsideration Committee" and school officials.

The committee evaluated the novels in alphabetical order: "Crank" and "Fallout," which were the subject of the board's meeting on Monday.

Soon after that vote, a May 2 memo the committee issued its findings that the three other books subject to complaints -- "Glass" (the second novel in the "Crank" trilogy followed by "Fallout,"), "Tricks," and "Traffick" -- were acceptable for high school libraries but not for libraries at middle schools.

All novels deal with addiction, with "Traffick" being about five teenagers who are "victims of sex trafficking culminating in the challenges of recovery, forgiveness, and rehabilitation," according to the May 2 memo.

But "Crank" and "Fallout" were the subjects of the Reconciliation Committee's first decision and the topic of Monday's trustees' meeting.

"Crank," published in 2004, is about a 16-year-old's descent into addiction to methamphetamine and grappling with "The Monster." It is the first novel in a trilogy, followed by "Glass" and then "Fallout" published in 2010.

"Crank" had been checked out 104 times at Kelly Walsh and Natrona County high schools, and "Fallout" was checked out 29 times at the schools, according to the March 23 memo. (Trustee Mary Schmidt later said "Fallout" was checked out 32 times from Kelly Walsh and Natrona County high schools.)

On Feb. 28, the Reconsideration Committee decided to keep the novels at the high schools, but remove them from Dean Morgan Middle School's library.

On March 23, the committee issued a memo about its findings including that the novels were not primary learning resources, but rather supplements; that they did not contain sexually explicit images; that they were evaluated as a whole and not by passages or sections taken out of context.

The memo also referred to policy 6232 about the criteria for District libraries in selecting books for their respective schools such as literary quality; age appropriateness; incorporation of accurate and authentic content; representation of different viewpoints; and provide a global perspective and promote diversity.

The Committee concluded "Crank" and "Fallout" met those criteria.

Monday, trustee Michael Stedillie made a motion to uphold the Reconsideration Committee's recommendation.

Trustees Dana Howie, Rita Walsh and Thomas Myler supported the motion.

"I see this book as a great resource in understanding for anyone that reads it and very much a cautionary tale, and so that is why I support the Reconsideration Committee decision," Myler said.

Hopkins disagreed, saying she was greatly disappointed by the committee.

She cited an American educator who said, "'books can take us into another world and make us happy, sad, full of despair, feel excitement.'"

Hopkins said she read "Crank" and "Fallout," and got none of that.

"I'm left without hope," she said. "The world and people in it are disgusting, the bottom of trash cans, just garbage."

In "Crank," a girl is subject to date rape full of drug abuse; "Fallout" things get worse for her children with more drugs and scenes like cheating on spouses," Hopkins said.

Trustee Kevin Christopherson said he tried to read one of the novels, but found them incomprehensible and gave up after the first chapter,

No one will save the world by banning a few books, adding anyone who does is deluded, he said, while pointing to his cell phone adding these devices and social media cause much more damage.

Christopher said the trustees are wasting their time and the district's money with the Reconsideration Committee.

Then he turned the argument on its head: "Have you ever seriously read the Bible? Some stuff that's in that book -- you want to talk about sex and concubines and sleeping with other people's wives."

Christopherson said he supported the committee's recommendation. "I hope to never have this discussion again. This is stupid and we need to get past it."

Trustee Kyla Alvey said she agreed with Christopherson, said this is a distraction compared to fentanyl and vaping. "Certainly, [no] book being read I know of has ever turned a child into a drug addict."

Schmidt responded that the Reconsideration Committee did not uphold the guidelines in Policy 6232 that she disagreed with the free verse poetic writing, that they do not elevate the reader, cite Queen's frontman Freddy Mercury without talking about the consequences of his lifestyle, that it is fiction and it doesn't meet the "cost and need" requirement of board policy.

Having these books without the themes of sex and drugs without parental knowledge or permission, she said, "... is a direct attempt of moral disruption to families of Natrona County."

Schmidt later criticized those who called her efforts "book banning." "We're not banning books we're selecting books."

Stedillie, who introduced the motion to support the Reconsideration Committee, said read all the books cover to cover.

"Did not enjoy them, except the last part of the third book in the series, "Fallout," when the love of family, the value of family, the healing power of family comes through like sunshine on a cloudy day," he said. "People seem to skip over that part.

Stedillie didn't enjoy the books, but couldn't stop reading them because he appreciated what they were saying, he said.

"The overall message about the dangers inherent in self-destructive behavior rings its warning bells so loudly that it would wake the dead," he said.

In the preface of first book in the series, the author wrote specifically wanted to show the dangers in this kind of behavior, Stedillie said. "The value of the books is clear, they could serve as a warning to any reader."

The Monster exists, he said

"And if you don't think we have kids in Natrona County who have already come face to face with The Monster, you are sadly mistaken," Stedillie said.

"I highly recommend these books be kept in the high school libraries," he said.

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