COLOMA, Mich.– A book has sparked controversy in Coloma. It’s called “Looking for Alaska,” a coming-of-age story that includes some sexual content.
It was released by a high school English teacher, and some parents call it pornographic and even go to the police about it.
The Coloma school superintendent told concerned parents in an email this week:
“…this book was not purchased with district funds nor is it part of the district 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 are filing police reports, alleging that the teacher in question illegally distributed pornographic content to minors.
The book “In Search of Alaska” is very popular among young readers and has even become a TV series on the streaming platform Hulu.
One student said as the teacher was handing out the gift, she mentioned that it was more of a “grown-up” book.
“The teacher knew what she was giving the kids,” said Coloma High School parent Krystal Murphy.
On Thursday, Murphy filed a police report against the Coloma English teacher, saying she shared pornographic content with minors. Murphy’s 12-year-old was among those students.
“Hey mom, I got this book today as a gift from my teacher, and she said there were some inappropriate things in it,” Murphy said. “First I looked it up online and what I saw, what the book explained, I was immediately like ‘what?'”
Content? Book “Looking for Alaska” by Indiana author John Green.
“I was appalled. I was appalled because this book is absolutely disgusting and should not be material shared with minors,” said Coloma High School parent Stephanie Sexton. “Except—I mean—with parental consent, maybe, but there were no emails or prior knowledge of the publication of this book.”
Seventh graders received it as a late gift after the holidays.
Sexton’s 13-year-old son received the gift. When asked what appalled her about the book, 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 profanity in this book in general,” she said. “It’s just not something 12- and 13-year-olds should be reading.”
The coming-of-age novel includes profanity throughout and has one sexually explicit scene involving oral sex.
“When we pollute children’s minds with this pornographic garbage, it confuses their awareness of what sex is supposed to be,” said Coloma Community Schools parent Robert Cheek. “It should be between a man and a woman when they get married.”
Some parents said they were so upset that they filed police reports.
Murphy says she combed through the book, pointing out what she thought was inappropriate, and brought her concerns to the Coloma High School principal.
“She just kept running,” Murphy said. “She told me it was a coming-of-age book and that if my daughter wasn’t mature enough for it, other kids could be.”
Later, Superintendent Davis Ehlers emailed concerned parents:
“First, I apologize that this book was distributed without giving parents the choice to decide whether their student can have the book. While you may find it inappropriate for children, others do not or may not for their children. I have worked to identify the flaws in the procedures and I have worked with our administrative team to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again.”
The book was not paid for with district funds, he said, nor is it required reading or part of the school curriculum.
“If people are not aware of what’s on the bookshelves in our public schools, they need to be aware, they need to be made aware,” Coloma resident Nancy Mazzucco said. “The idea that a teacher can give anything he wants is wrong.”
“My grandson got this book,” Sylvia Milnickel said. “That sounds more like ‘I’m going on a trip, I’m looking for something in Alaska.’ So apparently, this book, which I haven’t read, what they were looking for in Alaska was kids exploring their sexuality.”
ABC57 reached out to John Green, who responded with a statement:
“My understanding is that the book was a gift, not required reading, and students are under no obligation to read the book, just as they are under no obligation to read the many books freely available on the Internet that some people may find offensive… ‘In Search of Alaska’ is not a pornographic novel; it is a novel about loss and grief and radical hope.”
It is not clear if the book was on offer 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 subject to any disciplinary action by the district.
But her bio on the Coloma Community School website appears to have been removed.