Book Challenges Fuel Disputes, Prompt Legal Action

By Amy Wickner — November 16, 2012 2 min read
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Banned Books Week may have come and gone, but conversations continue at the district level about the age-appropriateness of books read in and for school.

The Frederick News Post reports that the Frederick County, Md., Board of Education is prepared to rethink its book approval process in response to concerns raised by parents and at least one Board member, also a parent. The current process begins with a public review period in which a teacher group selects non-textbook (or supplemental) classroom material for display at local libraries. Following the review period, which lasts one week, the teacher group submits a list of recommended books to the school board via the county’s deputy superintendent. Up to 20 books per month are raised for review by the board.

Possible changes to the process include new rating systems to identify books whose content may be objectionable to parents; providing board members with early access to the book list; and allowing parents to notify school and public libraries if their children may not access age-inappropriate books.

Elsewhere, disputed books remain in limbo as parents, teachers, and school officials find themselves at impasses. Southeast Pennsylvania’s East Penn School District has yet to resolve disagreements over the inclusion of two books—Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe—on the local high school’s summer reading list. Both books are optional, not required reading, and have been challenged for their sexual content. The Allentown Morning Call and the Eastern Express-Times have been following the months-long review process.

Even when resolved, challenges to school library material aren’t guaranteed permanence. Earlier this month, a review committee convened by California’s Rocklin Unified School District reversed a high-school-level decision to ban Different Seasons, a novella by Stephen King. Parent concerns prompted the local committee review, while a student appeal brought the case to the attention of district administrators. The Sacramento Bee has background and details.

This week, the ACLU has filed suit against the school district in Davis County, Utah, charging that the district violated the First Amendment by removing a school library book from the regular stacks. According to the Deseret Morning News, which first reported on the suit, parents at a local elementary school petitioned for the removal of a title they felt “normalizes a homosexual lifestyle.” The book had originally been flagged as inappropriate for students below grade 3, but was moved to a restricted shelf behind the librarian’s desk in response to the petition. The full text of the complaint (A.W. and C.W. v. Davis School District) may be found here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.