In September 2009, the Kids' Right to Read Project received a report about efforts to censor author Ellen Hopkins at a middle school in Oklahoma. In response KRRP sent this letter:
To read the full story according to Ms. Hopkins, click here.
Check out Kids' Right to Read Project's recent interview with Ms. Hopkins here.
Dr. Joseph Siano, Superintendent
Norman Public Schools
131 South Flood Avenue
Norman, OK 73069
September 28, 2009
Dear Dr. Siano,
We write to protest the recent cancellation of Ellen Hopkins’ talk at Whittier Middle School in response to the request made by one parent to remove Ms. Hopkins’ book, Glass, from the school library.
According to press reports, Ms. Hopkins was asked to speak about her career, writing process, and books. Even if she refers to one or more of her six novels to discuss how she draws on real life experience in writing, it is difficult to imagine how students could
be harmed by hearing how she came to become a successful author and how she practices her craft.
Your actions deprived the entire student body of an opportunity to hear a successful author speak merely because one parent questioned one of her books. To deny all students access to material because one person objects violates the rights of all those students who wanted to hear the speech, and their parents, who have a right not to have their own child’s education restricted to suit the demands of another parent.
Furthermore, there is no logical connection between the review of the book and the perceived need to cancel the author’s talk. As noted above, the topic of the talk had little or nothing to do with the subject of the book, and even if it did, what possible harm could
occur if she said that she was motivated to write the book because her own daughter had a drug problem? The take-home message to students from cancelling the talk is that discussions of drug use are off limits at school. Sadly, that will do nothing to keep young
people from learning about drugs from their peers and older students, and it will do nothing to discourage them from experimenting with drugs.
The take-home message to parents is that anyone who complains can get the school to pull a book, or a program, even before merits of the complaint have been evaluated. Finally, with regard to the request for a review of Glass, of course any parent has a right
to request that a book be reviewed. To insure compliance with constitutional standards, certain procedures should be followed: the request should be in writing and should state the grounds for the complaint; the complaining parent must have read the book in its
entirety; and the review should be conducted by a committee consisting of teachers, administrators, librarians, and perhaps a parent representative – but not the complaining
These procedures are important to insure a fair, impartial, and educationally sound review, which is particularly important in cases involving challenges to books in school libraries that exist to offer a wide variety of materials to appeal to different interests, maturity levels, and intellectual skills. Schools have a constitutional obligation not to endorse or promote a particular perspective or viewpoint at the expense of alternative views, and this principle applies with particular force in the library: “Local school boards may not remove books from school libraries 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, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 872 (1982) (plurality opinion) citing West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 642 (1943).
We can conceive of no legitimate pedagogical rationale that could be advanced for removing Glass from the shelves of Whittier Middle School’s library. However, a review of the book may help teachers and librarians develop an explanation for why the book is educationally sound and suitable for middle school students, which may satisfy the complaining parent. If not, parents should understand that just because a book is on the shelf doesn’t mean that anyone has to read it. Parents are free to guide their children’s reading choices according to their own views and values. They simply are not free to tell other people what their children should read, see, hear or think.
National Coalition Against Censorship
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression