Judge denies request to remove controversial book taught at Lake Norman Charter

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — A controversial book will continue to be taught at Lake Norman Charter in Huntersville.

A judge decided Friday that teachers will be able to use “Poet X” as part of their curriculum, days after hearing arguments in the lawsuit filed against the school by parents.

The 368-page book was written by Elizabeth Acevedo. Some local parents have called it “anti-Christian” and do not want their children to read it at school.

The school described the book to parents, who inquired about it, as an example of “contemporary poetry.” The letter to parents also states that it is “a story about coming of age.” The main character “struggles with her faith, relationships and finding her place in the world,” and when she discovers poetry, “finds a source of comfort and agency that she had not yet experienced before.”

Joel Bondurant, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of parents of a Lake Norman Charter student, said the book goes beyond academics and violates religious clauses of the First Amendment.

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“If it’s taking a position and it’s hostile toward any religious-affiliated group, or even in favor of religion over non-religion or vice versa, the Supreme Court has said the school can’t do that,” Bondurant said.

The suit pointed to several examples from the book. One reads, “Jesus feels like a friend, who invites himself over too often… who texts me too often. A friend I just don’t think I need anymore.”

The federal lawsuit said teaching the book violated the religious clauses of the first amendment. In court documents, the teacher defended the book, claiming it didn’t promote religion, saying, “in our use of the Poet X, we do not ask students to endorse or disapprove of the character’s religious views or any other person’s views of religion.”

After hearing from both sides, the judge said the plaintiffs didn’t provide sufficient evidence to keep the book from being taught.

Channel 9 contacted Lake Norman Charter’s Superintendent Shannon Stein last month.

The school’s letter to parents explained the intent of the curriculum and read, in part, “We strongly believe that preparing our students for success beyond high school goes well outside of strictly academic readiness and extends to introducing them to different thoughts and ideas, oftentimes through literature.”

Lake Norman Charter told parents who are concerned that the book isn’t mandatory, and it would offer an alternative selection. The school plans to teach the book this month to seniors.

Lake Norman Charter statement:

"Lake Norman Charter is a public charter school located in Huntersville, North Carolina with a focus on college readiness and preparing students to be life-long learners, leaders and contributing members of their communities. Since 1998, LNC has passionately sought to provide its students with an exceptional educational experience and has received recognition from a wide range of sources including North Carolina Department of Instruction, U.S. News and World Report and Commonsense Media. Consistent with its core values and as part of its commitment to Global Diversity and Inclusion, the school seeks and values diverse thought and a range of opinions and perspectives to increase students' awareness, expand their thinking and ultimately help them grow and achieve their full human potential.

"The topics and situations found in literature often provide opportunities to help students learn to navigate their present world, develop their identities and learn about relationships, communication and their own physical, intellectual and emotional development. A central role of public education is to teach young adults how to engage with challenging material by offering their own interpretations and hearing the thoughts of their fellow students. That hones their critical thinking skills — a vital part of being a fully developed adult. Our high school reading selections and thoughtful discussions led by our teachers do just that.

"At LNC, no literary selection is mandatory. If a constituent is not comfortable with the subject matter of a material, their perspective is honored and an alternative selection is offered. The Coble family rejected this option. According to established school policy as outlined in the student handbook and agreed to by the family, the matter was then elevated through the proper channels and finally resulted in the LNC Board of Education upholding the school’s position. We regret that the Coble family has now chosen to pursue the matter through legal means.

“LNC will not fall to pressure to censor The Poet X or any of its other literary selections. Instead, we choose to view this as an opportunity to share our school’s core values and to model navigating differences of opinions and perspectives respectfully and civilly.”

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