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RCAS to sell books once marked 'to be destroyed'

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Three book titles at Rapid City Area Schools that were once slated for destruction will now be sold to a book buyer, if the RCAS Board of Education approves the action Tuesday night.

The three titles — 174 copies of "How Beautiful We Were: A Novel" by Imbolo Mbue, 26 copies of "Girl, Woman, Other: A Novel" by Bernadine Evaristo, and 72 copies of "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky — are on the Board of Education's Tuesday consent agenda as surplus property that will be sold.

Under normal meeting procedure, items listed under the consent agenda are voted on at the same time without discussion, unless a board member pulls the item for separate discussion and vote. The Board of Education will meet at 5:30 p.m. on the second floor of the Rapid City Education Center, 625 Ninth Street.

The three titles are part of a group of five, including "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" by Alison Bechdel and "The Circle" by Dave Eggers, which were originally listed on the district's May 3 surplus list as books "to be destroyed." The titles were deemed inappropriate by district administrators earlier in the 2021-2022 school year. The books were purchased the summer before last school year for 12th grade English classes.

In August, RCAS Interim Chief Executive Officer Nicole Swigart told the Journal via email that 30 copies of "The Circle" and 35 copies of "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" are no longer at the school warehouse. She said they are believed to have been on a pallet of books sold to book buyers at an auction during the last school year.

Swigart said in the August email that she was told all of the books were accounted for in the two sets and there is "no way of determining when they were sold; it was a mistake since they had not been cleared to be sold."

The controversy with the books began in August 2021, when then-Superintendent Lori Simon forwarded an email to school board members from a concerned parent asking about the book “How Beautiful We Were: A Novel” possibly being banned.

In the email, Simon replied to the parent that the district was made aware of “some sexually explicit content in a book” and after reading it, didn’t believe it was appropriate for school-age students. Simon forwarded her response to the board stating some of them may have received the same email.

The school district then began an investigation of the other titles for review. During the process, district administrators led by Valerie Seales, RCAS director of teaching, learning and innovation, removed the other four titles as well.

The five sets of books were confirmed to be at the school district's warehouse in March, email records show.

In May, the book titles appeared on the district's surplus property list and went before the Board of Education's consent agenda as items "to be destroyed."

Public outcry, both for and against the books, at the May 3 meeting caused the Board of Education to delay a decision on destroying the titles and to seek legal advice.

In other business, the Board of Education is also expected to take action Tuesday on a proposed organizational chart for district administrators that would go into effect July 1, 2023. According to a resolution, if the new organizational chart is approved, the Board of Education will now evaluate both the superintendent and the chief financial/operations officer.

The resolution also states that if passed, the board would bring forth a request for proposal for a superintendent search and that the organizational chart will have further work done "in the coming weeks."

The resolution appears in the consent agenda, which means it could also have action taken without discussion at the meeting, unless a board member pulls it for separate consideration.

— City Editor Siandhara Bonnet and Interim Editor Nathan Thompson contributed to this report.

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