Graphic description of teen sex in assigned reading sends Gilford High School parent through the roof

GILFORD — William Baer, who recently moved his family here from New Jersey, said yesterday he is "outraged" to find what he described as a "pornographic" passage in a book, "Nineteen Minutes" by Jodi Picoult, assigned to his 14-year-old daughter, by the teacher of her 9th grade honors English class at Gilford High School.

Baer said that he intends to appear before the School Board when it meets on Monday evening and ask the members to read the passage in question. "I'd like to see them read this. To see them squirm," he declared.

Picoult, who lives in Hanover, is a popular author known for her topical tales. The 2007 book's title refers to the duration of a school shooting at a fictitious New Hampshire high school, which is portrayed through a series of flashbacks recalling schoolyard bullying and sexual aggression. The passage Baer objects to describes two teens, Josie, once a friend of the shooter who abandons him for the popular clique, and her boyfriend Matt, who abuses her and bullies the shooter, engaging in intercourse — aggressive on his part but resigned on hers. The language is graphic.

"I'm outraged that Gilford High School would require my daughter to read this kind of material," Baer said, adding that he was all the more troubled by the failure of the school to notify parents that the book had been assigned and offer them an opportunity to request an alternative. "I feel that I'm in the process of being violated by the state of New Hampshire's education system," he continued. "It's not there place to dictate."

Baer said that he "stumbled" on the passage when a friend leafing through the book randomly happened upon it. "He read it and asked ''have you read this?'' he said. "Then I read it and my wife read it. We were outraged."

Baer asked that The Daily Sun print the passage. Otherwise, he expected readers would dismiss his response as that of "an uptight, over-protective, over-reacting parent."

Editor Ed Engler declined, saying he thought some of the description rendered were not suitable for publication in 99 percent of daily newspapers in America, "Maybe 100 percent".

Baer noted that the (Manchester) Union-Leader, too, flatly refused to print it, asking "it's not fit to print, but it's okay for my daughter to read it and discuss it? My goal is to have everyone in the United States read what's on page 313 of that book," he declared, "except my daughter."

Soon after discovering the passage, Baer said that he e-mailed the principal, Peter Sawyer, to request a meeting, only to be informed one could not be arranged yesterday.

Meanwhile, later in the day, Kent Hemingway, the Superintendent of Schools, Sue Allen, who chairs the School Board and Sawyer issued an "informational statement" to local media. They said that students in English classes at the high school were assigned "Nineteen Minutes" on Monday, April 28 and explained it has been a selection open to high school staff since 2007, the year it was published. They describe the book as of "thematic importance," noting that it contains scenes of physical and sexual violence.

The statement reminds parents of the school district's policies, which refer to the procedures bearing on controversial material.

The officials said that when "Nineteen Years" was assigned in past years, parents were notified for their approval and concede this procedure was not followed this past Monday. However, they assured parents that notification will be sent to the parents of all students who have been assigned the book.

Baer suggested the notice include the passage on page 313. "If the text were not included, do you know any parent ,or student, for that matter, who could reasonably expect such content to be in a 9th grade assigned book?" he asked. "I think if they put that text in the notice, the vast majority of parents and possibly students would opt out."