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Steamboat Springs School District apologizes for teaching sexually graphic poem to teens

Posted at 10:17 PM, Nov 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-19 15:08:19-05

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. -- There’s a growing controversy in Steamboat Springs over a sexually graphic poem a high school teacher was requiring students to read in class.

The issue forced the district to publicly apologize on Monday.

"I was just blown away," said Brett Cason, whose daughter was forced to read the poem in class. “This is college material. This is not high school material. I mean, we're talking about a minor. It's pornography from the '50's."

The poem is Allen Ginsberg's “Howl,” so sexually explicit U.S. customs officials seized 520 copies of the poem in 1957.

Fast-forward 62 years, the controversy has come to Steamboat.

"A teacher requiring 16-year-old girls to write down vulgar terms for human genitalia," said Jeremy Dys, an attorney with First Liberty, about the controversy over the poem.

"I mean the very first four lines, I'm like – ‘No. This is crazy,’" Cason said.

For 16-year-old Skylar Cason, it was too much.

"I was extremely uncomfortable and taken aback,” Skylar said. “And I know that my friends were, as well."

Steamboat Springs High School administrators have supported the teacher thus far, but Cason says at a recent meeting — even the principal couldn't get through the poem.

"He said he couldn’t,” Cason said. “He couldn't read it out loud."

Dys says the poem is wildly inappropriate, especially in the #MeToo era.

"In the age of Harvey Weinstein who has used sexual favors to gain control over women, I don't understand why Steamboat Springs would even come close to permitting that in their school districts here," Dys said.

For Skylar, it’s about speaking up, perhaps for those too timid to do the same.

“I believe that I'm a voice for that classroom," Skylar said.

The district apologized Monday saying in a statement to Denver7 what happened, '…was simply an oversight as a result of (a teacher) not understanding the policy. We regret if members of our community were offended."

"If you want to teach controversial materials, that's okay,” Cason said. “But, you better give me an opportunity as a parent — and my daughter an opportunity — to opt out. Or give her alternate material to go and read and study."

"It is off the list beyond triple-X rated," Dys said. “And (Steamboat Springs superintendent) Dr. Brad Meeks should know better than this at this point, as well. To make sure that if you’re going to teach on controversial materials – you’re doing that with the full blessing of the parents. It is not their prerogative to make that decision for every parent in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. That violates federal law, and they need to be held accountable for it.”

“It just felt wrong,” Skylar said. “I lost a lot of respect for the teacher and the school.”