The National Coalition Against Censorship has written to the Board of Education of Columbus County Schools in Whiteville, North Carolina, regarding reports of the treatment of One of a Kind, Like Me by Laurin Mayeno. NCAC is concerned about the district’s policies on supplemental materials, the application of those policies in this case, and possible First Amendment repercussions.

One of a Kind, Like Me tells the story of a boy who decides to dress as a princess for a school costume parade, and his efforts to find an appropriate costume. The book is a reaffirmation of the importance and dignity of each individual. Its lesson appears on the last page, in which the characters state that each of them, whether dressed as an octopus, a butterfly, or a princess, is “one of a kind.”

After local university students performed the book for elementary school students via video, some parents complained to district officials. In response, the district superintendent apologized for not ensuring that the book was vetted before being performed, and a school board member was quoted as saying that the district does not consider matters of “gender identity politics” to be appropriate for the district’s elementary school classrooms.

By declaring the book inappropriate because it touches on issues that adults see as related to gender identity, the district is imposing its own view of what are acceptable forms of difference among individuals. Claims that certain books are “inappropriate” often serve as a mask for hostility towards the viewpoint expressed by those books, which raises grave First Amendment concerns. Determinations of “appropriateness” must always be grounded in educational reasoning, made without viewpoint bias.

Additionally, the claim that the district requires vetting of all supplemental material misrepresents board policy, which states: “Principals shall establish rules concerning what materials may be brought in by teachers without review.” This misrepresentation of policy suggests that the district official’s concern was not so much one of process but of their perception of the book’s viewpoint. The public comments by district officials appear to ban the use of One of a Kind, Like Me in district classrooms. Such a ban violates the district’s own procedures for adjudicating parental challenges to classroom materials, which are designed in part to prevent viewpoint discrimination from affecting decisions about instructional materials.

NCAC calls upon the Columbus County School District to publicly clarify that teachers may use supplemental materials without vetting if doing so complies with their specific school’s policies for such use. Further, we call upon the district to take no action regarding the use of One of a Kind Like Me unless a formal challenge is filed, as required by district policies. If such a challenge is filed, we expect the district to follow those procedures in their entirety.

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