A panel of parents, teachers and school officials voted unanimously this week to keep a book that uses the word “retarded” in the libraries of nine schools in a Minnesota district.

Jenna Boutain, a Farmington, Minn. resident whose daughter attends a school in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district, requested in April that the book “Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You” by Barthe DeClements be removed from schools because it uses a derogatory term for students with special needs.

Boutain is a district employee who works with students with disabilities.

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“As a whole, I feel the book is outdated and uses language that is no longer acceptable,” Boutain wrote in her request. “This book serves no educational purpose besides keeping words and behaviors in the minds of our students.”

Boutain’s child was given the book as part of an accelerated-reader program. A district official offered to restrict the child’s access to the book and she agreed, but decided to move forward with her request to have it removed from schools.

The book was first published in 1985 and tells the story of Helen, a sixth-grader with a learning disability. It was reviewed by a panel that included parents, teachers, a district principal and a media specialist and was led by the district director of teaching and learning.

Lori Torseth, media specialist at Westview Elementary School in Apple Valley, Minn., told the panel that the book was valuable for students who were struggling to learn to read. Torseth added that the book’s author told her it was written to “give people comfort that learning to read is hard.”

There is a national campaign to ban the “r-word” that is supported by the Special Olympics and other groups because they feel the word is hurtful and derogatory.

DeClements’ book is in the libraries of nine district schools, but is not used in the classroom. District policy allows community members to ask that instructional materials be reconsidered by district officials.

The policy was adopted in 1987, and there has been only one book removed from the schools since 1996.

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