Daniel Freeman, Superintendent
Montgomery County Schools
724 Woodford Drive
Mt. Sterling, KY 40353-9799
September 24, 2009
Dear Mr. Freeman,
We write to protest efforts to remove several books, including Unwind by Neal Shusterman, Lessons of a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles and Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson from Montgomery County High School. We understand that one parent objected to “inappropriate” content in the books and requested that they be removed. We
also understand that the district’s Book Review Committee has been disbanded at your direction. In our view, both situations raise serious First Amendment concerns.
The view of the parent who objects to the books is not shared by all, and she has no right to demand removal of the book. Public schools have the obligation to “administer school curricula responsive to the overall educational needs of the community and its children.” Leebaert v. Harrington, 332 F.3d 134, 141 (2d Cir. 2003). No parent has the right “to tell a public school what his or her child will and will not be taught” (Id.), or “a fundamental right generally to direct how a public school teaches their child.” Blau v. Fort Thomas Public School District, et al, 401 F.3d 381, 395 (6th Cir. 2005). Any other rule would put schools in the untenable position of having "to cater a curriculum for each student whose parents had genuine moral disagreements with the school's choice of subject matter." Brown v. Hot, Sexy and Safer Productions, Inc., 68 F.3d 525, 534 (1st Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1159 (1996). See also Littlefield v. Forney Independent School District, 268 F.3d 275, 291 (5th Cir. 2001); Fields v. Palmdale School District, 427 F.3d 1197, 1207 (9th Cir. 2005), amended by 447 F.3d 1187 (9th Cir. 2006).
If students were precluded from reading literature considered inappropriate by some, they would be deprived of exposure to vast amounts of important material, including Shakespeare, major religious texts such as the Bible, the works of Tolstoy, Flaubert, Joyce, Faulkner, D.H. Lawrence, and Nabokov, and contemporary books such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The school district would potentially put its students at an educational disadvantage in college if it did not introduce them to literature of this sort in high school. Your district can serve the needs and respect the rights and preferences of the whole student body, not by banning a book because one parent dislikes it, but by offering alternative assignments to objecting parents, where appropriate.
The concerns raised by the removal of the books are compounded by the decision to disband the Book Review Committee and replace it with a new one. Coming in response to the removal of the books, the action appears to be motivated by a desire to suppress discussion of the book challenge and possible criticism of the school’s decision.
We strongly urge you to retain Montgomery County High School’s copies of Unwind, Twisted and Lessons of a Dead Girl and to reconvene the original Book Review Committee. Individual freedom, democracy, and a good education all depend on protecting free speech and the right to read, inquire, question, and think for ourselves.
National Coalition Against Censorship
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression