The National Coalition Against Censorship and six co-signors have sent a letter to the Broward County Public Schools Board of Education objecting to the pause in teaching Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes after a complaint was lodged by local law enforcement.
Ghost Boys tells the story of a bullied, 12-year-old Black boy who is killed by a police officer while playing with a toy gun and watches from beyond the grave as his family and community unravel. The story blends historical characters, including Emmett Till, with current events.
According to reports, the book was being taught by a veteran teacher when a parent who is affiliated with law enforcement complained to the local police union about the political views ostensibly expressed by the book. The police union then complained to the Board, and the teacher who was teaching the book was ordered to pause teaching it until parents were informed about the nature of the book and were given the opportunity to have their children opt out of reading it.
As the letter explains, this raises serious First Amendment concerns. The District does not appear to require parental notification for all books. By singling out Ghost Boys for special scrutiny because of its supposed position on police practice, the District has engaged in viewpoint discrimination, which almost always violates the First Amendment. Moreover, singling out a certain type of content necessarily gives a biased perspective, casts a negative light on the book regardless of its literary worth, and needlessly stokes alarm among parents.
Literature is not social science; it is not taught as objective truth. Rather, the purpose of literature is to evoke empathy with a variety of human experiences. Characters in a book can often espouse points of view that some, or even most, people disagree with. Whether or not a parent, teacher or student agrees with views expressed in a book should not determine whether all students are able to learn from that book.
In addition to returning the book to the classroom, NCAC is urging Broward County Public Schools to adopt an instructional materials challenge policy, as many other school districts have in place. Such a policy would, ideally, create a process for managing book challenges that avoids viewpoint discrimination.
Read the full letter to the school district below. Click here for a full screen view: