In recent weeks, a Spider-Man comic book and Nintendo Power magazine have been challenged in school libraries in Cleveland, Ohio, and in Millard, Nebraska, respectively. Parents have asked whether a scantily-clad cartoon woman (in one case) or violence in a video game magazine (in the other case) constitute appropriate reading materials for students in school.

Here, NCAC takes a look at the ways school officials are responding to the controversies.

Last fall, a principal in a Cleveland Heights-University Heights, Ohio, middle school removed the November issue of Nintendo Power magazine from library shelves over concerns about a violent figure on the cover, and “mature” content.

The school librarian objected to the magazine’s removal because the principal did not follow the district’s procedures for challenging library materials, which includes submitting a complaint in writing. ACLU of Ohio opposes the banning of the magazine.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer covered the story:

Jeff Gamso, the ACLU’s legal director, said the policy applies to the principal, but if it doesn’t, the district needs one that does.

“The principal doesn’t get to say, ‘Whatever I say goes,’ ” Gamso said. “There’s got to be some mechanism by which decisions are made and a process of review. Or maybe tomorrow it’ll be ‘ “Hamlet” — that’s an iffy play.’ “

School officials may not remove library materials simply because they disagree with the viewpoints expressed therein. Books and magazines should be evaluated using objective criteria by a committee of educators. As the librarian and ACLU legal director point out, the principal should not be exempted from this process.

A librarian’s response to a book challenge in Millard, Nebraska, may help to mitigate this kind of removal of books on the basis of a particular viewpoint. One parent is challenging a comic book in a Millard School District elementary school library after her six-year-old son brought it home from school. The book, which is part of a series on Spider-Man, has been popular among students, but the parent objects to drawings she calls “sexually explicit.”

In this case, the school is doing the right thing in following its policies for dealing with challenged materials. The parent must file a complaint about the book, and then a committee will review the book using objective, educational standards.

School libraries are there to serve the needs of all students. The educators who evaluate the comic book should consider whether it may be appropriate for some fourth and fifth graders in the school. NCAC’s Book Censorship Toolkit includes a section of model complaint policies and procedures for review of challenged materials.

So, whether or not you think the comic book is appropriate for elementary school kids or Nintendo Power for middle schoolers, in public schools, reading materials must be evaluated using objective criteria. Adhering consistently to policies for dealing with challenges can help to ensure that kind of review.