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Book Restriction in Colorado Sparks A.C.L.U. Action

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado has taken the unusual step of using newspaper advertising to recruit parents to challenge a local school board's decision to restrict two children's books.

The civil-liberties group placed an advertisement in a Douglas County newspaper to locate interested parents after the local school board decided in February that two books by the British author Frank Dickens--Albert Herbert Hawkins--The Naughtiest Boy in the World and Albert Herbert Hawkins and the Space Rocket--should be placed in a reserved section of elementary-school libraries.

The books, which have been in the general-circulation areas of at least two district libraries for five years, have been checked out during that time by three students, according to Gail Schoettler, president of the board.

Parental Permission

Following the recommendation of a citizens' advisory committee named to study the books, the board voted that students must also obtain parental permission to read the two books.

The three-member advisory panel, named after one parent objected to the books' content, found that they lacked literary merit, according to Ms. Schoettler. The panel's members also thought the books were inappropriate for children because the protagonist is is not punished for challenging authority.

"I don't approve of taking a book off the shelves," said Ms. Schoettler, who did not vote to restrict the book. "No matter how you phrase it, it's censorship."

But she did note that she thinks the case is inappropriate for the aclu because the books remain available to teachers and to students who have parental permission to read them.

"The board members [who voted to restrict the Dickens books] didn't see it as a censorship decision," she added. "But I think the community does."

Plaintiff in Suit

David Miller, staff counsel for the aclu, acknowledged that the civil-liberties group would prefer that the case be dealt with out of court. Mr. Miller said he plans to attend a board meeting in mid-April to discuss the issue.

But if that meeting or subsequent discussion does not result in the removal of the books from the restricted shelves, "we will look seriously to see whether any of the people who have responded to the ad would be interested and qualified in the legal sense to become a plaintiff in a lawsuit," Mr. Miller said.

"There are important First Amendment issues involved," he added, noting that the case marks the first time the aclu of Colorado has placed an ad to find parents who are interested in discussing and possibly challenging such a decision.

--ab

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