By Brittany Hanson
Garden Grove Journal
Former Westminster School District board member Judy Ahrens was in a hurry. She was in so much of a hurry at Thursday night’s school board meeting that she could not even stay to hear a rebuttal after she made a public statement to remove a book.
Ahrens has been on a crusade to have the book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou removed from library shelves in various Orange County school districts due to portions she deems unfit for children.
On Thursday Ahrens cited two scenes of molestation, a rape scene and a lesbian love scene that are included in Angelou’s autobiography, a library shelf staple since 1969.
Board Jo-Ann Purcell asked Ahrens if she could at least stay to hear rebuttal for her public comment on the request for book removal, however, Ahrens said she was busy and had some where else to be right then. Purcell commented that she found it interesting that Ahrens had not brought this issue up when she used to be a member of the board.
Purcell said, “ You know, I think that a book, even if it touches or helps only one child . . . for that one child it is worth keeping on shelves.”
Her statement was met with applause from the audience, a packed meeting room full of district employees.
Purcell said that she had looked into the matter of the book and had found that it was of national acclaim and that if a child picked up the book and found it interesting they would read it, but if not then they wouldn’t.
Purcell also said that she, and others of her age range, would remember what it was like during the Nazi control of Hitler in Europe when books of all sorts were forcibly banned and burned.
The book has listed by the American Library Association as the third most challenged book through the 1990’s. The controversial rape scene, which has met the much of the challenge from the public, is an account from Angelou of her rape at age 8 by her mother’s boyfriend, a man referred to as Mr. Freeman.
Ahrens said in her statement Thursday and at other public meetings that she feels that children should be protected from “this kind of literature.” She said that she felt that it was inappropriate for seventh and eighth grade students to read a book because of these scenes.
The book is not a part of required curriculum in WSD, and when it is, it recommended by the ALA for students of the senior high school level sue to its mature content.
Angelou has said in interviews that she still bears the emotional scars of what happened to her as a child and included the scene to show the reality of rape and to serve as a message of understanding and possibly help to other victims.
According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2000, the highest percentages of reported child sexual assault occurred from ages 6-11, at 20.1 percent of all assault and ages 12-17, with 32.8 percent of all assault.
Young females were the victims of nearly 99.9 percent of all reported forcible rapes and 70 percent of reported and five out of six sexual assaults occurred within the home.
Offenders in such reported cases were more likely to be a family member or known to the family and victim.