Teachers at New Rochelle High School in New Rochelle, NY, removed pages from Girl, Interrupted, reportedly due to complaints about sexual content and profanity. The school board issued a statement opposing the censorship and announced that full text copies will replace the censored copies.
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Members of the Board of Education
City School District of New Rochelle
515 North Avenue
New Rochelle, NY 10801
December 12, 2008
Dear Members of the Board of Education,
We applaud your recent decision to replace censored copies of Susanna Kaysen’s memoir, Girl, Interrupted, with the full text in New Rochelle High School classrooms. We were shocked to learn that teachers at New Rochelle High School had torn out pages 64-70, reportedly based on complaints about sexual content and profanity. We also understand that this action was taken despite the fact that there had been no formal challenge to the book.
It is our view that in any controversy about curriculum or library materials, a school district should follow a thorough review process for evaluating challenged materials. Review procedures should be applied on a uniform and non-discriminatory basis, to ensure that educational standards are not compromised. Challenges to instructional materials, no matter who files them, should be initiated only by a written complaint indicating that the complainant has read the entire work and specifically identifying the grounds for objection, as the district’s policy requires. In addition, the review should be based on a professional assessment of the book’s educational value and interest to students and should examine the work as a whole, not as isolated passages or phrases. Such a process is essential to guard against subjective judgments and to ensure that books are only removed for pedagogically sound and legally sufficient reasons. Books should never be removed unless complaint procedures are followed and never prior to the completion of the review process.
Furthermore, the practical effect of acceding to any request to restrict access to materials would be to invite others to demand changes in the curriculum to reflect their beliefs and to leave school officials vulnerable to multiple, possibly conflicting, demands. The normal response to a parent or student who objects to a particular assignment is to offer an alternative assignment, a policy the Board has supported. This addresses the concerns of those who object to certain words and ideas, without infringing the rights of the many others who are eager for a more inclusive and expansive education.
For your information, we are enclosing copies of a booklet on school censorship that was produced by the National Coalition Against Censorship in collaboration with the National Education Association. We also suggest that you consider scheduling educational programs for staff on dealing with controversial materials.
Thank you for respecting the right of students to read Girl, Interrupted in its complete, uncensored form, and for standing by First Amendment principles. Individual freedom, democracy, and a good education all depend on protecting 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 Free Expression
CC: Superintendent Richard E. Organisciak
Donald T. Conetta, Principal, New Rochelle High School