March 7 – Lanter statements to board. She provided the following in writing to the board and only read the bolded portions due to the board denying her additional time.
I requested the novel be purchased in bulk on October 11. The principal did not ask me any questions about the material at this time outside of how much the book order would cost. Being my first book request, I did not know that I needed to provide information about the book, especially since it has been an AR book in our school library for years. It is a critically-acclaimed coming-of-age novel that is taught in countless schools, including the school that I attended.
The week prior to starting the novel unit, I approached my supervisor to warn him that there are a couple of challenging parts in the book involving sex, but I have prepared supplementary materials to deviate from the discomforts of these scenes. This would have been an opportune time for him to ask further questions or counsel me on the risks of providing the material to the students; however, he did not…and so I proceeded. I began the unit on November 15th and it was shut down on November 18th when we were only on p. 20.
It was after a couple of fathers contacted the principal and the book was removed from my classroom that I was asked to explain more elaborately what these controversial scenes included. My supervisor then read portions of the book himself and determined that he did not approve of the material being taught in the classroom. It was at this time that a reprimand letter was drafted stating that I did not fully disclose the content in the book. I did not agree with the statements on the reprimand letter as it gave the impression that I deliberately misled administration about the novel. I reminded him that I did approach him about the content before starting the unit. The rating of the book was on the purchase order form that he signed. He explained to me that it was impossible for him to actually read and review all of the materials in all of the classrooms. I know this is true and that he often suffers the unrealistic expectations from society, just like teachers. His narrative on the reprimand letter bent in his favor because he had his own livelihood to protect. I signed it because I trusted that if I did, then we could move past the situation. He said that I “didn’t have to agree with the reprimand letter.” I just “had to understand it.” I do not feel upset that he chose self-preservation. I empathized with him and felt bad that I had put us both in this difficult situation. I am upset, however, that he felt that he needed to choose self-preservation because we have a less than forgiving board.
On this same reprimand letter, the rumor that I told students that they could not tell their parents about the book was also addressed. Let’s take a moment to really consider that. Would anyone of sound mind ever stand before 50+ teenagers and tell them not to do something without recognizing the notorious and innate desire of teens to always do the exact opposite of what they’re told? Furthermore, it was posted in my Google Classroom on the weekly agenda that we would be reading “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” all week. Fortunately, there were other adults in the room that provided a written statement about what I had actually said – which went along the lines of students needing to be mature while having conversations about the book outside of class. My error was that I did not make efforts to contact parents and obtain their approval. I will acknowledge this fault and it was an important lesson for me to learn as I grow professionally.
I wish that I could say it is beyond me how my statements were manipulated to “Ms. Lanter told us that we couldn’t tell our parents about the book” but I understand very clearly why my words were altered. This lie was generated by the son of one of the fathers that have targeted me all year. The boy was clearly looking to appeal to his father and receive some kind of affirmation from him, as his father so openly talks poorly of me in front of his children. This personal vendetta of theirs began early in the school year after I politely declined pepperoni pizza from a ranch wife and this small cattle-ranching friend group realized that I don’t eat meat. Since then they’ve labeled me as a far-left liberal junkie and have scrutinized my every move out of fear that I’m indoctrinating their children with my values. This novel was the one tool that I actually provided them to push me out of the school.
It was only in an attempt to see me fired that these fathers presented at the school board meeting on December 13th. At the meeting, both Clayton Huseman and Travis Janssen stated how they were very pleased with the principal’s quick action and his removal of the book. They provided a graphic passage out of context and with an inaccurate description merely for shock value. Ask yourselves – what did they want from this? The book had already been removed 3 weeks prior. Following their public statements, I wanted to immediately respond to parents, the board, and the newspaper. I wanted to provide further explanation, my lesson plans and supplementary materials, my state-aligned objectives and intent. My supervisor advised me to not do that. He said that their statements do not change anything about what actually happened and that if I just keep my head down then this will still blow over.
It didn’t blow over. The board felt the need to re-discuss the problem. This extended into January because the two new board members wanted to have their say on the matter. Huseman continued to write to the newspaper with his lies and calling for my termination, bringing attention to my perceived “social agenda” and liberal values. My supervisor can attest that it was not easy for me to endure these attacks on my values and professional competence. I had a few very hard days and questioned my ability to continue teaching. Nevertheless, I stayed quiet and I continued to do my job as I have done for nearly 3 years now.
Then at 5:20 a.m., the morning after the February 7th board meeting, the principal texted me to meet him in his office before school. In this meeting, he told me that he would not be recommending me to the board for contract renewal. He encouraged me to resign, as that was the best option for my professional reputation. I asked him, “If I don’t resign, is there any way that the board will renew my contract for the Fall anyway?” And he told me “no…probably not.”
As I reflect on how this entire situation transpired, I don’t understand why it ever went past the reprimand letter signed on November 23rd. I made a mistake in that I didn’t obtain parental consent, but this was my first transgression over a 3-year period. My first 2 years, I was actually learning how to be a teacher while teaching students through the transition-to-teach program at Fort Hays State University. The principal concurrently served as my supervisor for Fort Hays and Smoky Hills and provided several positive observations. My mentors also gave favorable reviews. In this program, I maintained a 4.0 gpa in my education classes. I also had a baby and endured the unpredictable challenges of the pandemic. On several occasions, I wanted to throw in the towel, but I persisted thinking it would get easier with experience. I bought a house in town and signed up to help coach volleyball. But then…I gave the students an AR book that was already accessible to them in our school library.
I am not claiming to be perfect or even a fantastic teacher. But I do feel like in this situation, I deserved to be educated and supported by my school leaders. Instead, this board chose to crucify my character for months until enough offenses were dug up against me to deem me an incompetent teacher. I know I’ve missed an occasional email and I know I’ve posted my grades late a couple of times. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. I teach with my door shut not because I have anything to hide, but because I find it less disruptive for a reading environment and there is no rule that says I can’t do this.
I have so much respect for some of the members on this board, but I think I speak on behalf of the majority when I say that this situation was not handled constructively. Teachers do not work more effectively when induced by fear and that is all you’ve accomplished here. If a 3rd year teacher can lose her job over a book and maybe a couple of missed emails, then anyone can essentially lose their job over anything.
Your handling of this situation has created a huge disconnect between teachers and administrators. Where it’s our desire to build meaningful relationships and use our professional judgment to provide necessary and applicable materials, we now have to tiptoe around a few board members that have no concept of what we do. We are not working collectively as a team to provide quality education.
My biggest question is what have you been discussing over the last few months? The daughter of a board member runs around the school discussing details of “confidential” executive sessions and attempts to record me with her friends, but outside of designating your teens as personal informants, what productive steps have you taken to understand the situation? To this day, not one school leader has asked me to provide my lesson plans or my intent with the novel. We have 5 department professionals in our building and not one was asked to provide their insight on the academic merit of this novel. You clearly did not make efforts to acquire necessary information and consider all sides of this problem so that you could come to an informed decision.
This board doesn’t even respond to their own emails to let people know that 30 seconds was spared to read their concerns. Instead some of you resort to Facebook to leave passive-aggressive responses about the situation. You scheduled this meeting on the night of parent-teacher conferences so several staff members that hoped to attend, can’t. You knew a lot of people were going to attend and yet you hosted it in this small room regardless, physically limiting access to the meeting. I was asked to be the spokesperson for everyone that had concerns about this situation and to keep it under 5 minutes. You’re not listening to the community and doing what is in the best interest of the majority. You’re doing what’s in the best interest of yourselves.
You chose the easy route to give a couple of parents/friends what they want and to maintain your own social values. On Friday, the son of a board member joyously sang out with his friends “If you’re racist and you know it, clap your hands!!” Who was I supposed to address about this? His dad who shares these beliefs? Who has been one of the biggest advocates for my dismissal and has so blatantly undermined my authority? Perhaps if teachers were permitted to provide books that instill a sense of empathy for all people and their various walks of life, then together we could eliminate these hateful ideologies and create a more compassionate generation.
I am not here asking you to renew my contract. I am here because I think that some of the members on this board don’t understand the gravity of the position that they hold and the message they are sending to staff, the community, and future employees. It’s easy to rally up the votes to get you a spot at this table. It’s not easy challenging yourself to continue learning and growing. It’s not easy choosing to do what is right even if you receive criticism from family and friends. I am disappointed that so much time has been spent only discussing the difficult portions of the novel. Yes, there are some graphic scenes, but I felt that the long-term message from those scenes was far more important than the short-term discomfort. Readers that have completed the novel know that it contains overriding themes involving acceptance, tolerance, and love. I am absolutely moved by the students and community members that are embracing those themes and rejecting hate and educational censorship.