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Alaska school board postpones decision on banned books

PALMER, Alaska — An Alaska school board postponed a vote over rescinding a ban on selected English course books after taking public testimony on the issue that attracted national attention when a Grammy-winning rock group pledged to purchase the banned books for students.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District board heard three hours of testimony Wednesday on a proposal to rescind last month’s vote to remove five American literature classics from high school English elective courses.

The board is scheduled to vote on the proposal May 20.

The list of books includes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” Joseph Heller’s "Catch-22,” Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," Ralph Ellison's “Invisible Man,” and Tim O’Brien's “The Things They Carried.”

Members of the band Portugal. The Man stepped into the controversy in their Alaska hometown by offering to buy copies of the books for students and families.

At least 80 people registered to submit testimony by phone rather than in person Wednesday because of health restrictions resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

The majority favoured rescinding the board's decision to ban the novels from reading lists.

The board also removed The New York Times’ The Learning Network as a teaching resource, although journalism students are permitted to use the newspaper.

“This was placed back on the agenda because of the difficulties we’re having with COVID, the inability for the community to speak, and also in light of the previous vote, information has been brought forth that needs to be considered in this option,” school board President Tom Bergey said during the meeting.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

The Associated Press

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