Sparta school officials deny teacher suspension over book

Sparta. Supporters of English teacher Kate Brennan defended her before the school board. But board members and administrators would neither confirm nor deny that any teacher was suspended. They also said the book that was supposedly banned, about a Black teen fatally shot by a police officer, was still on the school library’s shelves and a book club selection.

Sparta /
| 05 Oct 2021 | 04:13

Students, alumni, and parents asked for the reinstatement of Kate Brennan, a Sparta High School English teacher allegedly suspended after she was said to have used a book in one of her classes that some found objectionable.

Speakers at the September 29 school board meeting suggested that Brennan was allegedly suspension was over her teaching of the novel “Ghost Boys,” a 2018 novel by Jewell Parker Rhodes about a 12-year-old Black boy who is fatally shot by a police officer.

They accused administration of banning the book. But Assistant Superintendent Tara Rossi said the book is still available on the school’s library shelves and that it is currently a selection for a school book club.

She said the school did not change any of its policies or regulations.

The school board attorney, Marc Zitomer, said the board and administration cannot speak on specific personnel matters.

“The comments were heard,” Zitomer said. “The board can’t confirm or deny that any staff member has been placed on any type of leave.”

There were no staff suspensions on the agenda for the Sept. 29 meeting, which was postponed from Sept. 23 after the school board was unable to produce a quorum.

‘Without her, I don’t know where I’d be’

Brennan’s supporters spoke during both public comment sessions.

Sparta High School student Gabby Olarte told the board that she was pulled out of class regarding Brennan and told it was because she was a “trustworthy student.” But, she said, it was “just because I’m 18.”

She said she never felt more comfortable than she was in Brennan’s women’s studies class.

“People criticizing Ms. Brennan and her class are the same people who don’t recognize the social injustices in the school community and in our country,” Olarte said.

Julie Neuschatz said Brennan was a light in her life during the Covid-19 pandemic. And when she was about to be hospitalized with an eating disorder, she said, Brennan reached out to her and helped her overcome her mental health struggles.

“Without her, I don’t know where I’d be,” Neuschatz said. “We cannot lose one of the biggest supports in this school. Many of us will be lost with no one to turn to.”

Brennan’s clubs not up for approval

Brennan’s supporters said the list of clubs up for approval did not include two of the clubs Brennan advised, Girl Up and We Are The Dream.

Sparta High School student Juliet Sanchez, a second-year student in the district, said she was disappointed that those two clubs were missing for approval.

“Those two clubs, specifically run by Miss Brennan, were able to help me find a community of friends that have been difficult to find in virtual learning and being new somewhere,” she said.

Superintendent Matthew Beck said that before his arrival in the district, the procedure for club advisors was not being followed. He also said no clubs have been eliminated.

“There are still a few outstanding clubs that we were working to fill,” Beck said.

Todd Smith said his daughter’s favorite class was Brennan’s women’s studies class, even though it was the hardest. He said his youngest daughter is being done a “huge disservice” by not having Brennan teach her class.

“If you have suspended her over an $11 book, shame on you,” Smith said. “If you suspended her because of her material and you have not sat in her class, also shame on you. Bring Ms. Brennan back.”