PHOENIX, Ariz — The Paradise Valley Unified School District said it's taking steps to protect students from controversial literature after a Horizon High School teacher allowed pupils to read a book containing profanities and graphic descriptions of sex.
Parents notified the district earlier this month they were shocked to learn students had been assigned to read "So You've Been Publicly Shamed" for an AP English class over the summer.
The 2015 book by Jon Ronson contains interviews with internet personalities who have been publicly shamed online. Some passages include quotes and blog posts taken from the internet that describe violent sexual acts or crude jokes.
One section of the book quotes an infamous 2008 article published in News of the World about a "Nazi-style orgy in a torture dungeon."
The part of the book that disturbed Thomas Morton, whose teenage daughter attends Horizon High, references an internet thread about a man who was in love with his dog and engaged in acts of bestiality.
"It's extremely inappropriate and I can't believe that someone would think that this is an appropriate assignment for kids," Morton told 12 News.
Ronson's book was one of two options Horizon's students could read over the summer as part of a writing assignment. Once Morton reviewed the book for himself, he said he emailed his daughter's teacher with some questions.
After he failed to get an adequate response, the father wrote a letter to the school board which prompted the district to review its reading lists.
Now the district is attempting to correct the situation and Horizon High's principal, Linda Ihnat, is currently on leave for undisclosed reasons.
In a letter sent out last week, Superintendent Troy Bales admitted Ronson's book was an inappropriate reading assignment and apologized for not doing more to prevent students from reading it.
"Our staff are human, and I can’t promise perfection, but what I can promise is our continued dedication and commitment to providing a top-tier education for our students," Bales wrote.
The superintendent blamed a "breakdown in communication" as the reason why Horizon High allowed the book to be read by students.
In the future, Bales said the district will improve how families are notified of sensitive reading materials and a committee will review existing reading lists for any books that may need to be vetted.
Stephanie Brown, a member of the Paradise Valley Unified School District Governing Board, said she was "horrified" by the contents of Ronson's book and apologized that the district's students were exposed to it.
"It was a unique situation where I had known and I didn't realize how egregious the choice was for this book," Brown said during a board meeting this month.
Despite getting the district to take action on its reading materials, Morton said he was still troubled by the fact his daughter was already introduced to the book's contents.
"A part of my daughter's childhood has ended now that she's read about these extreme descriptions of bestiality and pornography," Morton said.
The father encouraged the district's parents to be more vigilant about reviewing what types of learning materials their children are bringing home.
"We have to apparently monitor even school assignments now much more closely than we thought we did," he added.
Some parents are organizing on social media and they plan to attend December’s board meeting to voice their support for the English department and Horizon's principal.
Up to Speed
Catch up on the latest news and stories on the 12 News YouTube channel. Subscribe today.