The National Coalition Against Censorship is concerned about a new policy at Montclair Public Schools that threatens to chill teachers’ ability to select instructional material that deals with race, ethnicity, religion or sexuality.
On May 10, Montclair High School sent its community an email honoring American-born Israeli ultranationalist Rabbi Meir Kahane. They quickly received complaints about celebrating Kahane’s history as the founder of groups designated as terrorist organizations. The school sent a follow up email shortly after apologizing for not adequately researching those included in its message intended to mark Jewish Heritage Month. In the aftermath of the controversy, the principal informed teachers that all materials “in recognition of any racial, ethnic, LGBTQ or religious group” must be vetted by the principal before being disseminated “to staff, students and families.”
The District is certainly entitled to vet materials which include statements that are endorsed by the school, like the original email. But the policy in question, as circulated, appears to go far beyond that and to affect the full range of books and other materials taught in the classroom. In doing so it raises both First Amendment and pedagogical concerns.
Singling out materials with certain types of content for review and approval raises concerns about possible discrimination against controversial positions. In addition, the requirement raises serious pedagogical concerns. It greatly burdens teachers, and is likely to chill their ability to select books that best serve students’ needs. Because the requirement is so broad and so vague, a huge range of materials might fall under its ambit. This would include social science books as well as novels taught in English class. Most of these include some reference to racial, ethnic, and religious groups or issues of sexuality. If teachers are required to vet all materials relevant to these topics, they will be encouraged to give short shrift to some of them.
NCAC is asking the District to clarify to all teachers, administrators and staff that the new vetting policy only applies to materials intended to express the position of the District or of the school, not materials intended for classroom use.
Read the full letter to the school district below. Click here for a full screen view:
Header image via Tlantanu at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons