The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) wrote more than 46 letters responding to book challenges and bans in 17 states in 2022. Below are summaries of letters from October 14 – November 28, 2022, that were not individually highlighted on our website but were instrumental in advocating for students’ First Amendment rights and fighting censorship in U.S. schools.
NCAC worked to bring attention to review reconsideration policy abuses. For example, a letter was sent to Beaufort County (S.C.) School District, on November 3, 2022, as its Board of Education, removed more than 90 books from school libraries. We had two objections to that action. First, the books were removed after a complaint was made but before they were officially challenged, contrary to district policy. Second, district policy requires that challenged books be removed pending adjudication. As we have frequently argued, such policies encourage censors to lodge numerous frivolous complaints, which is precisely what happened in this case.
Beaufort County isn’t alone. On October 28, 2022, NCAC delivered a letter to the Texarkana (Texas) Independent School District regarding removing 58 books from its libraries pending a formal review. The books were removed due to allegations that each title was “pervasively vulgar.” However, the District’s standard policy regarding challenged books states that “[a]ccess to a challenged resource shall not be restricted during the review process, yet titles were banned without due process.”
Review policies and school core values are proving to be afterthoughts. On October 24, 2022, the NCAC contacted Conway (AZ) Public Schools board in response to the removal of Beyond Magenta and Felix Ever After from District libraries. Despite the reconsideration committee’s recommendation to retain the books, the Board ordered them removed after speakers at a school board meeting criticized the books’ views on LGBTQIA+ issues. We wrote that we were concerned that the books might have been removed because of disagreement with those views, in contravention of the principles set forth in the Supreme Court’s Pico decision. Last year, the Court reaffirmed those principles, stating that public schools must protect unpopular ideas. Mahanoy Area Sch. Dist. v. B.L., 594 U.S.___, 141 S. Ct. 2038, 2046 (2021). Therefore, any decision that suggests viewpoint discrimination raises serious First Amendment concerns.
School districts across the country struggle to balance protecting free expression and to establish a curriculum that provides students with diverse viewpoints. On October 14, 2022, NCAC wrote to the School District of Pickens County in Easley, South Carolina. During a September 26th meeting, Board Members described Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You as “an opinion piece” and its ideas as “dangerous.” Apparently, for those reasons, the Board ordered the book removed despite the reconsideration committee’s recommendation to retain it.
NCAC contacted Aiken County (S.C.) Public Schools on November 28, 2022, in response to the sudden removal of The Hate U Give and the Board’s decision to develop new policies. NCAC provided administrators with resources to ensure that decisions about educational material are made in an objective, nonpolitical manner.
NCAC also wrote to the Natrona County School District in Casper, Wyoming, on November 28, 2022, in response to policy modifications. Recently the District has proposed a new vague district policy that would ban materials with “sexually explicit images or sexually explicit acts or simulations of such acts” from all school libraries. The current draft policy could be more specific. When regulations are written in broad or ambiguous language, they give enormous discretion to those who make decisions, creating a danger that some will allow their personal views of the material to affect their judgment. NCAC wrote to the district to urge that they clarify the proposed regulation to ensure that books are not improperly barred.
NCAC predicts that this unprecedented effort to ban books by ignoring or modifying review policies will continue in the new year. Experts from its Youth for Free Expression Program, Arts and Culture Advocacy Program, and Kids’ Right to Read Project stand ready to support our nation’s advocates as they fight censorship in schools, libraries, and communities across the country.