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Blount County middle school removes book 'Dragonwings' from curriculum after parents express concerns

Union Grove Middle School told parents on Friday it would stop teaching the book 'Dragonwings' to its sixth graders.

BLOUNT COUNTY, Tenn. — When Kahla Williams first learned her sixth-grade daughter was going to read 'Dragonwings' in class, she was excited.

"It's a historical fiction. It's an excellent book... It's a Newbery Award-winner," Williams said. "I think it's important for them to learn everything that they can about every culture."

The 1975 novel by Laurence Yep explores the "struggles and dreams of Chinese immigrants navigating opportunity and prejudice in San Francisco," according to its description.

"If something makes you uncomfortable, it's likely that you should be reading it or that you should learn it," Williams said. "We live in a predominantly white culture and so this was an opportunity for her to learn something different."

But after some parents expressed concerns over the novel's content, Union Grove Middle School Principal John Webb told parents they would no longer be teaching it.

A petition circulating online calls for the district to remove the novel from its curriculum because of racism, foul language, underage drinking, violence, drugs, prostitution and alcohol. It had about 130 signatures as of Monday evening.

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"Our students have been studying the novel, which was included in our state-approved curriculum," he wrote in a letter on Friday. "A materials review team has recommended that the inclusion of the book be discontinued at this time in Blount County Schools."

That review was conducted in accordance with Blount County Schools policy 4.403, according to the district. 

"Here at UGMS, we believe that it is in the best interest of our students to honor that decision and commit to a review of our curriculum to ensure its appropriateness for the students of our community," Webb wrote.

Credit: Blount County Schools

Kahla Williams said her daughter was on Chapter 10 when the school made the decision to move to the next learning module.

"The book was just taken from them. They didn't get to finish it. They're not testing on it," she said. " I felt like it fosters discrimination... it's just continuing to whitewash their education."

She bought a copy at a bookstore so that she and her daughter can finish it together. 

"When books are banned, young people are going to continually be denied access to knowledge of the past and that's very important," she said. "We're anxious to finish it."

In a statement to 10News, Blount County Schools said its team is happy to help should families have questions about their child's instructional program.

"Blount County Schools teaches Tennessee state standards. Our curriculum containing high-quality instructional materials has been approved by the Tennessee Department of Education," the district said. "Our district is following board policy 4.403 related to reconsideration of instructional materials."