Brevard County Public Schools in central Florida recently removed Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel/memoir Gender Queer from school library shelves without regard to its own book challenge procedures. According to a statement by Superintendent Mark Mullins, members of the school staff decided to remove the book on their own authority. NCAC has written to the District to remind them of their responsibility to uphold free expression principles and urge them to clarify to all employees that the District’s policies must be followed in all cases, including returning Gender Queer to library shelves, pursuant to District regulations, for the duration of the review process.

Book challenges are often highly contentious and emotional, and the District’s regulations are crafted to give hearing to all parties, and also to ensure that decisions are made based on objective criteria which focus on the needs of students. For example, the District policy requires that books be reviewed by a committee that includes all stakeholders; that the committee meetings be publicized and open to the public; and that the committee consider the book as a whole, with a focus on “determin[ing] the extent the challenged material supports the curriculum.”

By exempting the challenges to Gender Queer from the District’s regulations, the District has deprived itself, and its students, of the advantages of this sound policy. Gender Queer is an award-winning book that will not appeal to all students, but clearly has value for many students, especially “those who identify as nonbinary or asexual as well as for those who know someone who identifies that way and wish to better understand,” as noted by the School Library Journal. By exempting Gender Queer from the standard procedures, the District raises the suspicion that the removal of the book was motivated by hostility to the book’s position on gender nonconformity.

Had the district’s regulations been followed, the District might have decided that, on balance, the needs of its students are best served by retaining Gender Queer on library shelves.

Read the full letter to the school district below. Click here for a full screen view: