HUDSON, Ohio — An Ohio mayor is asking all five school board members of his town to resign or face possible criminal charges over high school course material that he said a judge called “child pornography.”
Hudson, Ohio Mayor Craig Shubert made the statement during a board of education meeting after multiple parents complained about the content of some writing prompts contained in a book called “642 Things to Write About” provided to high school students enrolled in a college credit course called Writing in the Liberal Arts II.
Parents said there was a prompt that asked students to “write a sex scene you wouldn’t show your mom,” and another which said “rewrite the sex scene from above into one that you’d let your mom read.”
Another prompt asked students to drink a beer and describe how it tastes. Parents said they felt these writing prompts and others were not appropriate for high school students.
One speaker said he was “appalled” by the content and requested that cameras be put into the classroom so parents could monitor what is being taught to their children. Another speaker said the material was “disgusting” and that it amounted to “grooming.”
In a prepared statement, Superintendent Phil Herman said the “inappropriate and offensive writing prompts” were part of a supplemental resource used in the high school senior-level College Credit Plus writing sections.
“The district immediately determined this writing resource should not be in the hands of our students, and on Monday, collected the books from the students enrolled in the course,” Herman said. “It is important to note that at no time were any of these inappropriate writing prompts assigned as part of the class.”
High school principal Brian Wilch said the class is offered in association with Hiram College but is taught at the high school. He also said the “642 Things” book has been used in the past.
Wilch told the board Monday that he and his administrative team apologized to the students’ parents. The school is searching for replacement material that is suitable for high school students, he said.
“We did not exercise due diligence when we reviewed this resource and as a result, we overlooked several writing prompts among the 642 that are not appropriate for our high school audience,” Wilch said. “We feel terrible. At no time were any of these inappropriate prompts selected or discussed, but still they were there and they were viewable, and you can’t unsee them.”
Shubert on Monday night gave the board an ultimatum.
“It has come to my attention that your educators are distributing essentially what is child pornography in the classroom,” Shubert told the board. “I’ve spoken to a judge this evening. She’s already confirmed that. So I’m going to give you a simple choice: You either choose to resign from this board of education or you will be charged.”
His statement was met with cheers and applause from many of the audience members.
The mayor said he would like to see all five members resign by the end of the month.
It’s not clear whether the board can be held criminally liable for material that was being used in a class.
“We’ve never heard of criminal charges [filed against a school board] for curriculum,” said Ralph Lusher, staff attorney with the Ohio School Boards Association.
While emphasizing he is not familiar with the Hudson Board of Education’s process to approve curriculum, Lusher said school boards typically have a process where curriculum is reviewed by committees before it comes before the board for its approval. He said he believes it’s “unlikely that something would get to them that is of such moral turpitude that it would bring criminal charges.”
Lusher said Ohio state House Bill 110 — which takes effect Sept. 30 — will require school districts to have parents of high school students sign permission slips for College Credit Plus classes. The Ohio Departments of Education and Higher Education are working together to create a permission slip that will notify parents about mature subject material that could be part of the College Credit Plus course. There is not currently such a requirement.
Herman said an independent investigation is underway “to determine how these supplemental materials were reviewed and approved, and if any additional action should be taken.”
“It is clear that as a district we did not properly review this resource, and for that, we sincerely apologize,” he said. “We take great pride in the instructional experience of our students and take very seriously anything that negatively impacts our mission to provide an educational program that provides for the development of each child in a safe, nurturing environment.
“Again, we are reviewing our approval processes to make sure that nothing similar happens in the future.”