School officials in Wayzata, Minnesota, recently removed Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison from the Wayzata High School library in violation of District regulations.

It appears that the school’s principal removed the book due to his own personal dislike. By violating the District’s regulations, the principal has not only set a poor example for students, he has also deprived the school, and its students, of the advantages of the District’s very sound book challenge policy.

Book challenges are often highly contentious and emotional, and the District has regulations crafted to ensure that all parties feel that they have been heard and respected, and also to ensure that decisions are made based on objective criteria which focus on the needs of students. The policy, which applies to challenges brought by school employees, as it was in this case, provides that a diverse committee of education professionals and community members review the challenged work; that the person challenging the work not be a member of the committee; that the primary consideration be the educational suitability of the work, and that the committee’s decision can only be overturned by a vote of the Board.

The removal of Lawn Boy demonstrates the pitfalls of exempting some challenges from the District’s regulations. It is highly problematic for book removal decisions to be made by a single person. Such action increases the likelihood that a book will be removed for improper reasons, such as personal hostility to the perceived message of the book.  When book removal decisions are made by a properly constituted committee, it is more likely that books meeting all students’’ needs will be incorporated into the library’s collection. It is less likely that decisions will be the result of political pressure or other improper considerations.

Moreover, libraries have a public mission to serve all of its community. Lawn Boy will not appeal to every student. But if every library book is required to serve every student, the shelves would be bare. A library, including a school library, is meant to include a broad selection of books that provide value to a range of students. Had the book been reviewed by a committee of stakeholders as required by District policies, the committee might have determined that the students of Wayzata High School are best served by retaining the book on library shelves, as was recently the case in Fairfax County, Virginia.

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