Thirty books have been removed from Prosper Independent School District libraries in Prosper, Texas, without following the district’s book challenge procedures. NCAC is calling upon the district to return the books to district libraries.
Earlier this year, more than fifty books were temporarily removed from district libraries on the suspicion that they were “pervasively vulgar.” It was the position of district administrators that Board Policy EF Legal permits the removal of such books without complying with the district’s instructional materials policy.
Subsequently, district librarians were told to permanently remove approximately 30 books from library shelves because, in the view of someone in the district, the books did not fit the district’s “community standards.” When asked for clarification regarding what “community standards” means, the district told librarians that the books were removed because the included explicit sex and/or drug use; profanity; and violence.
It is entirely improper for district employees to ignore duly adopted district regulations. It is also poor policy to permit this particular policy to be ignored. For example, the district has ordered the removal of several books written by Ellen Hopkins. Those books, which are written in verse, address social problems such as drug addiction, mental illness, and crime, and several have won major awards. There are clearly powerful reasons why such books might be valuable for some students. To allow one or two administrators to remove such books without ensuring that they hear from those who might benefit from them ignores the obligations of the school district to serve the needs of all its students. This is presumably why board policy entrusts book review decisions to a committee of diverse stakeholders, rather than to an administrator acting alone, without input.
Controversies surrounding instructional resources can be highly emotional, and it is important that all stakeholders feel that they have been heard. Moreover, different books appeal to different people, and so it is essential that book reviews are conducted with input from a variety of individuals, including teachers, parents, community members, and students.
Ignoring book challenge procedures exposes the district to potential legal liability. The Supreme Court has limited the ability of public schools to remove library books. In particular, the Court has said that books cannot be removed because of disagreement with the views expressed therein. Well-crafted book challenge regulations ensure that those illicit concerns do not infect the adjudication process. When a district ignores those regulations, it creates suspicion that it has acted improperly.