Book that sparked debate back in classrooms

FILE PHOTO | Southold School District Superintendent David Gamberg said Wednesday the book
FILE PHOTO | Southold School District Superintendent David Gamberg.

Southold Superintendent David Gamberg confirmed Wednesday that a children’s book that sparked a debate within the community has been reintroduced to the elementary school’s curriculum.

nasreens secret school 2Following a Wednesday evening school board meeting, Mr. Gamberg told The Suffolk Times that “Nasreen’s Secret School,” a book based on a true story about an Afghan girl whose parents were taken away (and never returned) by members of the Taliban, is again being used in Southold Elementary School. The young girl in the story named Nasreen enrolls in a secret school after she inexplicably loses the ability to speak following the loss of her parents.

“I don’t know the exact time frame [it was brought back] but we consulted with the teachers and tried to find out how they would be using it,” Mr. Gamberg said. “And they felt comfortable using it.

“It’s basically run within the classroom so that it’s not a uniform on, off kind of situation … So [the teachers] determine the way that they’re going to incorporate the use of the text.”

During an Oct. 23 school board meeting, Mr. Gamberg said the book had been taken out of the classroom after three parents said at the meeting they believed it was too violent for third graders.

“We did, if you will, pull the book as far as being used beyond this point,” Mr. Gamberg said to concerned parents about six weeks ago.

During the same October board meeting, school board member Scott DeSimone said he believed the intended message of the book is about “Islam and Allah.” Then, in a Newsday opinion piece published today, Mr. DeSimone said he sees in the book a “pro-Muslim agenda that comes straight from the White House.”

“I thought the book was introduced at this young age and grade level as part of the underlying doctrinal forces pushing Common Core  …  in this case, the social justice agenda and pro-Muslim agenda,” he told Newsday.

Mr. Gamberg is also quoted in the Newsday opinion piece and said that he has faith in the choices of his classroom teachers.

“As long as we have a teacher who has the skill to use the text in an appropriate and responsible way — and I believe our teachers do — the message about the power of literacy comes through,” Mr. Gamberg said.

“Nasreen’s Secret School” is reading material currently used under the Common Core State Standards, which has been nationally recognized and adopted by most states across the country that claims to better prepare students for college and careers by requiring instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age.

Mr. Gamberg said Wednesday he believes the book offers “the truth” and “perspective on the value of reading.”

“It helps to illustrate children in various parts of the world or a particular part of the world,” he said. “That their access to books was limited and that they end up developing means and a way to be able to celebrate the ability to read.”

Since the initial story was published in The Suffolk Times Oct. 31, the paper has received frequent letters from the community about the book and the local controversy surrounding it. A total of 13 letters have been published in subsequent editions.

Additional reporting by Jennifer Gustavson

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