In an unfortunate turn of events, J. Todd Chasteen, a lawyer known for his past efforts to censor books in his local school district, was appointed to serve a four year term on North Carolina’s State Board of Education.
In 2013, Chasteen actively supported an unconstitutional effort to remove Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits from Watauga County schools. A 10th grade English Honors teacher named Mary Kent Whitaker attempted to teach the book to her class of sixteen year old students. A small group of parents felt uncomfortable with the amount of sexually explicit content and sought to remove it from the school curriculum. Chasteen came out in fervent support of the parent's claims. During this time, Chasteen described Allende's critically acclaimed work as a “sex book”. Chasteen’s response to the Whitaker's teaching of the book was such that it implied any book containing sexual content was devioid of educational merit.
After NCAC sent multiple letters, the Watuaga County School board voted 3-2 in favor of keeping The House of the Spirits part of the curriculum.
Nonetheless in 2015, Chasteen's activity in this controversy were concerning enough to raise a red flag when he was initially nominated to serve on North Carolina’s Board of Education. United with the American Booksellers for Free Expression, NCAC sent a strongly worded letter to state legislators expressing concern over J. Todd Chasteen’s nomination to the Board of Education, drawing attention to Chasteen’s past history of censorship and poitning out the faulty logic which motivated these actions:
Purging classrooms of works that contain sexual situations and other content that some find offensive would eliminate scores of esteemed literary works by Joyce, Faulkner, Morrison, Vonnegut, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Dostoyevsky, and many others. As these examples suggest, any attempt “to eliminate everythingthat is objectionable . . . will leave public education in shreds. Nothing but educational confusion and adiscrediting of the public school system can result . . . .”
The letter highlights the inability of J. Todd Chasteen to make sound judgement calls regarding the academic worth of material. However, evidently, NCAC's recommendation to reject J. Todd Chasteen’s nomination from North Carolina's Board of Education was disregarded.
For now, we have no way of knowing what effect this decision will have on constitutionally protected works and first amendment rights within the North Carolina school system.