The Kids’ Right to Read Project opposes the removal of Vibe magazine from Randolph High School’s library in Randolph, WI after the school’s principal, Tom Erdmann complained about the magazine’s“gang violence/activity” and “gang symbols/materials.”
Dr. Greg Peyer
Randolph School District
110 Meadowood Drive
Randolph, WI 53956
June 26, 2009
Dear Dr. Peyer,
We write to call your attention to procedural irregularities that undermined the legitimacy of the decision to remove Vibe magazine from Randolph High School’s library. We urge you to reinstate the magazine immediately or, if necessary, refer the matter to the Randolph District School Board.
Randolph School District’s written policies provide clear procedures for handling challenges to educational materials. However, they were not followed in this case. It is our understanding that the complaint against Vibe was filed by Randolph High School Principal, Tom Erdmann. District policy states, “Any parent/guardian may request reconsideration of library materials.” It does not authorize school officials to challenge library materials.
Erdmann also served as a member of the Library Review Committee that reviewed the very material he had challenged. This is clearly a conflict of interest. The fact that Principal Erdmann cast the deciding vote to remove Vibe shows that the review process failed to provide a fair examination of whether Vibe is an appropriate choice.
Vibe has won many prestigious awards and has been chosen by the American Library Association’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. By citing its “gang violence/activity” and “gang symbols/materials” as grounds for removal, the review committee violated its own mandate to “form opinions based on the materials as a whole.”
School officials are bound by constitutional considerations, including a duty not to give in to pressure to suppress unpopular ideas or controversial language. The Supreme Court has cautioned that, "[l]ocal school boards may not remove books from library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’" Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 872 (1982)(plurality opinion). This constitutional duty applies with particular force in the school library, which, unlike the classroom, has "a special role…as a place where students may freely and voluntarily explore diverse topics." Campbell v. St. Tammany Parish School Board, 64 F. 3d 184, 190 (5th Cir. 1995).
Thus we urge you to return Vibe to Randolph High School’s library until a challenge is properly filed and properly reviewed. Such a process is essential to guard against subjective judgments and to ensure that materials are only removed for pedagogically sound and legally sufficient reasons. On these criteria, there seems little ground to remove the magazine.
If you are unwilling to do so we request that you refer this matter to the school board. The fact that you acted as chair of the review committee suggests that an appeal to a higher authority may be necessary to eliminate any doubts about the fairness of your reviewing your own decision.
National Coalition Against Censorship
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
CC: Randolph District School Board