Interest has been high in the debate over whether to keep T.C. Boyle’s “The Tortilla Curtain” on high school reading lists at Santa Rosa City Schools. The school board voted Wednesday 7-0 to maintain its policy of keeping the book available and limiting it to juniors and seniors while allowing students to opt out and read something else.

Montgomery High parent Liz Franzel said Thursday that she was disappointed but not surprised that the school opted to keep the book available.

“I wasn’t surprised because it was more politically driven,” she said. “Unfortunately the majority of the board did not like the book, thought it was ‘graphic,’ ‘gave him a headache,’ ‘couldn’t get through it.’ Yet instead of being led by those feelings, I believe they were trying to be politically correct with the whole ruling of the issue.”

Franzel worried that the opt-out option would make students even more uncomfortable. She reiterated that she doesn’t oppose the book being available in school libraries, she just doesn’t want it taught in classrooms.

The book contains copious amounts of profanity, as well as graphic sex scenes and describes a rape.

But backers say it’s a powerful tale of the American dream that deals realistically with immigration, poverty, class and race struggles.

Ridgway High English teacher Nancy Watanabe called it an “amazing” and “moving” book.

In speaking with board member Larry Haenel, who for decades taught English at Montgomery, he said reading about heavy subjects can teach students how people survive sometimes unspeakable circumstances. 

“I read the rape scene and the rape shows the horror of a rape,” he said. “Why would we want to hide that from students? Why wouldn’t we want our students to understand the horrors of the act and the healing that needs to happen after such a horror?”

School Board member Laura Gonzalez said she didn’t like the book, but that did not mean she was willing to strike it from the reading list. She also countered the notion that high school students should be entirely sheltered from harsh realities.

“When a child turns 18, it’s not like they can all of a sudden understand life,” she said. “At least in a high school setting they are more likely to be led through it, they are more likely to talk about it.”

Franzel said that is the role of parents, not teachers.

“There is a time and place for everything,” Franzel said. “This book does not belong in high school.”

She said Thursday she is not sure what her next step, if any, would be.

She has no regrets about filing the complaint and requesting the change, though.

“It’s opened it up to a bigger arena, not just confined to the school board level,” she said. “This might give parents, (it might) open their eyes to a situation that they might not be aware of that is going on.”

“Maybe it’s not over,” she said. “Maybe this was the tip of the iceberg that this has opened. I would strongly caution parents to read what their child is reading.”

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