Joint Letter Opposing Removal of Award-Winning book The Fighting Ground from Elementary School Library
Bay District School Board
1311 Balboa Avenue
Panama City, FL 32401
June 18, 2008
Dear Members of the Bay District School Board:
We are deeply concerned by your recent decision to ban the book, The Fighting Ground by Avi, from elementary schools throughout the Bay District Schools. We understand that one parent challenged this award-winning book without having read it in its entirety because he objected to language in the book. We also understand that both a review committee and the superintendent recommended that the book be kept in school libraries, available to all, and that by banning the book, you are rejecting the guidance of these education professionals.
The task of selecting school library materials properly belongs to professional librarians and educators. Parents may be equipped to make choices for their own children but, no matter how well-intentioned, they simply are not equipped to make decisions that address the needs of the entire student body. Without questioning the sincerity of those who object to the book, their views are not shared by all, and they have no right to impose those views on others or to demand that the library shelves reflect their personal preferences.
School officials are bound by constitutional considerations, including a duty not to give in to pressure to suppress controversial language or unpopular ideas. The Supreme Court has cautioned that, "[l]ocal school boards may not remove books from library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’" Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 872 (1982)(plurality opinion). This constitutional duty applies with particular force in the school library, which, unlike the classroom, has "a special role…as a place where students may freely and voluntarily explore diverse topics." Campbell v. St. Tammany Parish School Board, 64 F. 3d 184, 190 (5th Cir. 1995).
Furthermore, the practical effect of acceding to any request to restrict access to materials on this basis will be to invite others to demand changes in the library to reflect their beliefs and to leave school officials vulnerable to multiple, possibly conflicting, demands.
The Fighting Ground is a work of historical fiction set during the Revolutionary War and addresses the challenges that the protagonist, a young boy, faces during wartime. The book must be evaluated as an entire work, with its pedagogical value and literary framework taken into account and not reduced to isolated passages. The Fighting Ground is well regarded by parents, teachers, librarians, and young readers alike, and it has been showered with numerous awards, including the prestigious Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction and the honor of ALA Best of the Best Books for Young Adults. This thought-provoking book recommended for elementary school readers ages 8-12 addresses questions and themes relevant to some students, regardless of whether all parents choose to acknowledge the fact.
We strongly urge you to restore The Fighting Ground to elementary school libraries in Bay District Schools. Those who object to this book are entitled to their view, but they may not impose it on others. They have no constitutional right to restrict all students’ access to a library book because it conflicts with their personal views; but neither do they or their children have to read it. We urge you to stand by the principle that is so essential to individual freedom, democracy, and a good education: the right to read, inquire, question, and think for ourselves.
Joan Bertin, Executive Director
National Coalition Against Censorship
Chris Finan, President
American Booksellers Foundation for Freedom of Expression
CC: James E. McCalister, Sr., Superintendent