The Kids' Right to Read Project sent the letter below to the school board and superintendent at Crook County Schools to oppose the ongoing ban on classroom use of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. After the superintendent removed the book in violation of district policy, a committee reviewed the book and voted to reinstate it. The book was returned to the library, but it remains suspended from classroom use while the superintendent, school board, and a committee review the district’s policies on instructional materials.
Rich Shultz, Superintendent
Board of Directors
Crook County School District
471 NE Ochoco Plaza Drive
Prineville, Oregon 97754
March 6, 2009
Dear Superintendent Shultz and Members of the Crook County School Board,
We write once again to protest the removal of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie from ninth grade English classes at Crook County High School. We understand that after the superintendent removed the book in violation of district policy, a committee reviewed the book and voted 4-1 to reinstate it. We also understand that the book was returned to the library, but that it remains suspended from classroom use while the superintendent, school board, and a committee review the district’s policies on instructional materials. In our opinion, the ongoing ban of the book during the policy review process raises serious First Amendment concerns. We urge you to follow the advice of the committee that reviewed The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and reinstate it immediately.
The board did the right thing in assembling a committee of professionals to review the book, in keeping with its current policies. The decision of such a committee should only be reversed for educationally sound reasons. Even if the board finds it necessary to review its policies, this and any other challenged materials should remain in classrooms while the review process is completed.
The district’s current policies make plain that the board has responsibility under the First Amendment to uphold students’ right to read. The policy, “Public Complaints about the Curriculum/Instructional/Library Materials,” states that the school has a “responsibility to provide information” and that “No parent or group of parents has the right to determine the reading matter for students other than their own children” (policy code KLB). This, along with the decision of the review committee, argues strongly in favor of reinstating the book.
It is well established that parents have no enforceable right to have their viewpoint reflected in the school curriculum. No parent has the right “to tell a public school what his or her child will and will not be taught.” Leebaert v. Harrington, 332 F.3d 134, 141 (2d Cir. 2003). Nor do parents have “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). Furthermore, the school has a constitutional obligation not to endorse or accommodate a particular perspective or viewpoint at the expense of alternative views: “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 strongly urge you to restore The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to ninth grade classrooms at Crook County High School and to uphold the First Amendment in the formulation of any policies concerning library and curriculum materials.
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
National Coalition Against Censorship