After controversy erupted in Hudson, Ohio, over the appearance (but not use) of writing prompts that allude to sexual experience in an optional, college-level writing course, the school seized the books from students and the mayor threatened to prosecute the school board. The National Coalition Against Censorship has written to the mayor and joined with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and PEN America in a letter to the superintendent of Hudson City Schools. The escalation from parent complaint to blatant censorship to threatening educators and school district officials with legal action is deeply troubling.

As FIRE explained in their article on this incident:
“Under Ohio’s College Credit Plus program, secondary school students may take courses offered by local universities and colleges to earn dual credit from their high school and the college. High school seniors at one Cleveland-area school, Hudson High, can take an introductory college writing class offered by Hiram College, a local private college. The textbook for the course — 642 Things to Write About — is a collection of hundreds of writing prompts, some of them witty, absurd, or provocative.

When a parent of a Hudson High senior flipped through the book, she was shocked to learn that some of the prompts involve risqué material — none of them, it turns out, were actually used in the class, which only covers about 6% of the prompts in the book. Some of these unused prompts involve death (“Choose how you will die”), murder (“Write a scene that begins: ‘It was the first time I killed a man’”), sex (“Describe a time you wanted to orgasm but couldn’t”), and substance abuse (“Write a letter from the point of view of a drug addict”). Others are more mundane (“Find a photograph. Write the story of what’s happening outside the frame”) or humorous (“Write a script to give telemarketers to sell plastic pooper-scoopers”).”

At a school board meeting, the Hudson High School principal announced the books would be seized from students. Then, Hudson Mayor Craig Shubert declared that: “It has come to my attention that your educators are distributing essentially what is child pornography in the classroom. I’ve spoken to a judge this evening. She’s already confirmed that. So I’m going to give you a simple choice. You either choose to resign from this Board of Education or you will be charged.”

Hudson High’s response likely violates Ohio laws prohibiting the content of college courses offered through the College Credit Plus program to be altered when delivered to high school students. Parents of students taking CCP courses signed a waiver acknowledging that college-level courses may include “adult themes and content”. In our joint letter, FIRE, NCAC and PEN reminded the district’s superintendent that, while students (and their parents) may opt-out of these college-level courses, personal disagreements with particular content cannot limit what all students who choose to take these courses can learn.

NCAC has also written directly to Mayor Shubert to request that he withdraw his (inaccurate) accusations and publicly apologize to the School Board, the citizens and students of Hudson, as well as sexual abuse victims everywhere for misrepresenting slightly controversial writing prompts (that included no photographs) as the grave crime of child pornography.

The full letter to the mayor is below. Click here for a full screen view: