By: Ben Swann
Gilford, NH- A father of a high school student was arrested at a school board meeting Monday night after protesting the school’s sexually explicit required reading assigned to his 9th grade daughter at Gilford High School.
The book in question, ”Nineteen Minutes” by author Jodi Picoult, is about a school shooting taking place in a fictitious New Hampshire town, and it contains themes of student violence, bullying, and sexual aggression. There is one particularly provocative and graphic depiction of violent, drunken sex between two teens in the story on page 313. Click here to read the passage (warning: graphic language and explicit sexual content).
William Baer came to the meeting to voice his opposition to the school’s failure to send home notification alerting parents of the graphic content. “I’m outraged that Gilford High School would require my daughter to read this kind of material,” Baer told the Laconia Daily Sun.
Josh Youssef, a friend of Baer, spoke with Benswann.com about what preceded the school board meeting and Baer’s arrest. Youssef was at Baer’s home when they were talking about a reading assignment given to Baer’s daughter. Youssef opened the book and came across page 313, and they were shocked by the graphic description of rough sex. “His jaw dropped,” Youseff told Benswann.com.
Baer then contacted Principal Peter Sawyer of Gilford High School last Wednesday to arrange a meeting, but was told by Sawyer it would not be possible to meet before the weekend. Baer attended Monday’s meeting to make his concerns known to the school board. There was a police officer present at the meeting, Gilford Lt. James Leach. Youssef said that he had been told by other parents that it’s not common for police to be present at Gilford school board meetings.
The school board meeting allowed for public comment only; no discussion, questions or speaking more than once was permitted.
After Baer spoke for two minutes- the maximum speaking time dictated by the school board- another parent, Joe Wernig, spoke in support of the book’s content. Baer responded to Wernig’s comments, and it was then that he was asked to leave by Leach. When Baer asked if he was going to be arrested, he was escorted from the meeting by Leach and handcuffed before being placed in a police cruiser. After Baer’s arrest, Lt. Leach was not replaced by another officer for the duration of the meeting.
Baer was not the only angry parent at the school board meeting. Another parent, Sarah Carrigan, said that she was “utterly appalled that this was an ‘oversight’”. Baer’s wife, Barbara Baer, shares her husband’s frustration. “They can discuss this some other way,” she said. “They don’t need that kind of imagery.”
“Nineteen Minutes” has been part of Gilford’s 9th grade AP English curriculum since 2007 when it was published. The school issued a statement that concluded the district “will take immediate action to revise these policies to include notification that requires parents to accept controversial material, rather than opt out.” The school sent out a notice stating that the book assigned “depicts high school relationships, some of which are unhealthy.”
Baer told Benswann.com that the school’s notice was only sent out after he went to the principal to discuss it, and that the notice failed to disclose the graphic passage in the book. “I can’t believe the school requires this as reading material,” he said. “There’s no reason to expect this kind of thing.”
While some parents say that this book opens up critical dialogue between parents and their children, Baer noted that when he asked Sawyer to discuss the passage in context with the rest of the book, Sawyer said he was uncomfortable doing so.
In the extended video below, given to Benswann.com by Youssef, Baer is shown being arrested after speaking out. Youssef believes, and the video shows, at minute 5:05 the superintendent signalling Lt. Leach to confront Baer to remove him from the building.
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