The Albemarle County School Board voted Thursday night to remove Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlet” from sixth-grade reading lists. A parent of a Henley Middle School student originally challenged the book in May on the grounds that it is derogatory toward Mormons.
Thursday’s vote was the culmination of the work of a committee commissioned to study the book and two discussions by board members.
Board member Diantha McKiel, of the Jack Jouett District, said it was important to note that the school system has a history of reconsidering books.
“Sometimes we have declared books age inappropriate, sometimes we have decided that they should stay where they are,” she said.
More than 20 former Henley students turned out to oppose the book’s removal from the lists. Rising Western Albemarle High School ninth-grader Quinn Legallo-Malone spoke during public comment to oppose removal of the book. He called the work “the best book I have read so far.”
The board based its decision on the recommendation of a committee commissioned to study the Victorian work. In its report, the committee concluded that the book was not age-appropriate for sixth-graders.
In her comments to the board, Brette Stevenson, the Henley parent who first complained about the book in May, said the work was not suitable as an introduction to mystery and deductive reasoning.
“‘A Study in Scarlet’ has been used to introduce students to the mystery genre and into the character of Sherlock Holmes. This is our young students’ first inaccurate introduction to an American religion,” Stevenson told the board.
Stevenson suggested replacing the book with Doyle’s fifth novel, “The Hound of the Baskervilles, which, she said, is a better introduction to mystery.
Legallo-Malone said he was disappointed the book was being removed from lists, but was happy that it was being considered for use at a higher grade level.
“It’s not what I had hoped for, but I guess they did what’s best,” Legallo-Malone said. “I was capable of reading it in sixth grade. I think it was a good challenge. I’m upset that they’re removing it.”
Legallo-Malone said he was looking forward to reading the book again, should it be added to a high-school reading list.
“I hope I’ll see it again, definitely,” he said.
Stevenson was pleased with the outcome.
“I think the process worked,” she said.
In other action, the School Board told representatives of AT&T to take more time to study a possible location for a cell phone tower attached to Stony Point Elementary School.
The board asked AT&T to do the study after several parents said they were worried about long-term exposure to radiation from the tower. The original proposal had the tower attached to the roof of the elementary school directly above a second-grade classroom.
Andrea Heapes, president of the Stony Point parent-teacher organization, said she was happy the board asked AT&T to reconsider the site.
“I am so relieved,” she said.
Board superintendent Stephen Koleszar said the board needed to be sensitive to the misgivings of community members about the antenna. Koleszar told the board he would allow his own child to occupy the room, but thought community concerns should be addressed.