The Kids’ Right to Read Project opposed the censorship of the teen poetry anthology, Paint Me Like I Am in Landis Intermediate School’s library in a letter dated May 27, 2009. KRRP received a letter from Superintendent Charles Ottinger in response to our expressed objections. Here are some excerpts from his letter to us:

“Principal Don Kohaut did in fact tear pages from the book and I did support his choice because I agreed with his analysis that the pages were objectionable. From our perspective we did not feel it was necessary for our students to be exposed to such questionable material when other more acceptable materials were available on the same subject.”

“We made that decision based on what we believed to be in the best interest of our students.”

“Suffice it to say that while I accept and admire your letter as an eloquent dissertation on the topic of censorship, it is pretty much a party line letter from organizations that simply have one point of view. Regrettably, that point of view does include taking into account the obligation educators have to provide moral guidance to students.”
In response to the following letter, KRRP received this letter from Superintendent Charles Ottinger (July 21, 2009).

Superintendent Charles D. Ottinger
Vineland School District
625 Plum Street
Vineland, NJ 08360
                                                                                               June 25, 2009

Dear Mr. Charles Ottinger,

This letter is a response to your letter of June 2, 2009.

We applaud your recent decision to replace Landis Middle School library’s damaged copy of Paint Me Like I Am by Bill Aquado and Richard Newirth with an unexpurgated copy of the book.

Given this decision, we are puzzled at the statement in your letter that educators “have to provide moral guidance to students.”  As your decision appears to recognize, school officials may not interfere with the right of students to receive information because it conflicts with a specific concept of “morality” or a particular belief system.

Your charge that we tow the “party line” or are heedless of opinions other than our own is without foundation.  If you familiarize yourself with our work, you will find that our statements are based on controlling law, that we defend the right of individuals to hold and express widely divergent views, and that we support educators in exercising their professional discretion over pedagogical matters, so long as they do so in a manner that is consistent with their constitutional obligations. 

Joan Bertin                                                            
Executive Director                                          
National Coalition Against Censorship       

Chris Finan
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression