Parents call young adult novel gifted to students 'pornographic'
COLOMA, Mich,-- A book is sparking controversy in Coloma. It's called "Looking for Alaska," a coming of age story about a teenage girl, that does include some sexual content.
It was given out by a middle school English teacher, and some parents are calling it pornographic, even going to police over it.
The school superintendent in Coloma told concerned parents in an email this week:
"…this book was not purchased with district funds nor is it any part of the district's curriculum. I agree with you 100% on the fact that this book should not have been given to students without parental permission."
A group of Coloma Community School District parents is filing police reports, alleging the teacher in question illegally distributed pornographic content to minors.
The book, "Looking for Alaska" is very popular among young readers even becoming a TV series on the streaming platform, Hulu.
One student said as the teacher was handing out the gift, she mentioned it was more of a "grown-up" book.
"The teacher knew what she was handing the kids," said Coloma Junior High School parent, Krystal Murphy.
On Thursday, Murphy filed a police report against a Coloma English teacher, saying she distributed pornographic content to minors. Murphy's 12-year-old was among those students.
"'Hey mom, I received this book as a gift today from my teacher, and she said there was some inappropriate stuff in it," Murphy said. "I looked it up online first and what I saw, what it was explaining about the book, right off the bat, I was like 'what?'"
The content? The book "Looking for Alaska" by Indiana author John Green.
“I was appalled. I was disgusted because this book is absolutely disgusting and should not be material that’s distributed to minors," said Stephanie Sexton, Coloma Junior High School parent. "Unless— I mean— with the parental consent, maybe, but there was no emails no prior knowledge of this book coming out.”
It was given to seventh-grade students as a late present after the holiday break.
Sexton's 13-year-old son received the gift. When asked what about the book appalled her, Sexton replied, "all of it."
"The drug use, the explicit sexual language that's in this book, there's underage drinking in this book. There's foul language in general in this book," she said. "It's just not something that should be read by 12 and 13-year-old kids."
The coming-of-age novel does include profanity throughout, and has one sexually explicit scene that involves oral sex.
"When we pollute out children's minds with this pornographic garbage, it messes up their minds of reality what sex is supposed to be about," said Robert Cheek, Coloma Community Schools parent. "It should be between a man and a woman when they get married."
Some parents said they were so disturbed, they filed police reports.
Murphy says she combed through the book, highlighting what she thought was inappropriate, and she brought her concerns to Coloma Junior High's principal.
"She just kept giving the runaround," Murphy said. "She told me it's a coming-of-age book and that if my daughter's not mature enough for it, other kids might be."
And later, Superintendent Davis Ehlers, emailed concerned parents:
"First, my apologies that this book was passed out without giving parents the choice to determine whether their student could have the book. While you find it, inappropriate for children, others do not or may not for their children. I have worked to identify the breakdown in procedures and worked with my administration team to ensure that something like this does not happen again."
The book was not paid for by district funds, he said, nor is it required reading or part of school curriculum.
"If people are not aware of what is on the bookshelves in our public schools, they must be, they need to be made aware," said Coloma resident Nancy Mazzucco. "The idea that a teacher can hand anything out that they want to is wrong."
"My grandson received this book," said Sylvia Milnickel. "It sounds more like a 'I'm going on a trip, looking for something in Alaska.' Well apparently, this book, which I have not read, what they were looking for in Alaska was children exploring their sexuality."
ABC57 reached out to John Green, who responded with the statement:
"As I understand it, the book was a gift, not required reading, and the students are under no obligation to read the book, any more than they are under any obligation to read the many books that are freely available online and that some people may find offensive…'Looking for Alaska' is not a pornographic novel; it is a novel about loss and grief and radical hope."
It is not clear whether the book was offered in the Coloma school library. But concerned parents said it was offered in that teacher's classroom as independent reading.
ABC57 spoke with the teacher's attorney, who said she has not been subjected to any disciplinary action by the district.
But, her bio on the Coloma Community School's website appears to have been removed.