Following widespread protest by local citizens and national groups, including National Coalition Against Censorship, an Alaska school board has voted 6 to 1 to rescind its decision to remove five classic works of fiction from the reading list for 11th grade English classes.

Students will once again be able to read: 

  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.

Prior to the vote on May 20, Jim Hart, the vice president of the board of the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough School District in Palmer, Alaska, argued that a passage from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings depicting the author being raped as a child was “inappropriate” for high school students.

“This is one of the most banned books, and I mean banned, removed books in the country and precisely for this content,” Hart said.

Superintendent Monica Goyette replied that it was a mistake to judge the book by an isolated passage.  She added that teachers provide the context for understanding difficult material.

Several dozen residents protested outside the district offices prior to the meeting.  Kate Steagall, a high school student, told a reporter that she objected to the way young people were being portrayed.  “To be told that we’re not mature enough to read these books or we need to be protected is kind of annoying,” she said. 

On April 29, NCAC sent a letter to the Mat-Su school board urging it to remove its ban.  “The Board’s action establishes a poor policy, which is both educationally and legally suspect, and is also disrespectful of the professional expertise of the District’s educators,” it said.