UPDATE: December 5, 2007: School Board votes to remove books; free speech groups condemn removal of challenged books


James M. Hulme, President
Westhampton Beach Board of Education
340 Mill Road
Westhampton Beach, NY 11978

November 13, 2007

Dear President Hulme and Members of the Board of Education:

We write to oppose efforts to remove the books, The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult and Cradle and All by James Patterson, from the ninth grade optional reading list.  We understand that some parents object to sexual content in the books and have requested that they be removed from the list.

While no book is appropriate for all readers, the decision to read a book should be made by students, guided by the values embraced by their own families.  The Tenth Circle and Cradle and All are in fact recommended for many readers.  The Denver Post says New York Times Bestselling author Jodi Picoult “leads readers to consider thorny issues around motives and consequences,” and the Washington Post adds that “(her) depiction of…rites of contemporary adolescence is exceptional.”  Publisher’s Weekly calls Cradle and All “exciting and moving,” hailing that it “tackles issues of faith with admirable gusto.”

The sexual content and themes in The Tenth Circle and Cradle and All represent small but essential parts of the novels, consistent with the kind of material that high school students frequently read.  Indeed, if students were precluded from reading literature with sexual content, they would be deprived of exposure to vast amounts of important material, including Shakespeare, major religious texts such as the Bible, the works of Tolstoy, Flaubert, Joyce, Faulkner, D.H. Lawrence, and Nabokov, contemporary books such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and many of the texts regularly assigned in high schools throughout the State of New York.  The district would potentially put its students at a disadvantage in college if it did not permit them to read literature of this sort in high school.

The views of the parents who object to the books are not shared by others, and they have no constitutional right to impose their judgments on all students.  As many courts have observed, public schools have the obligation to "administer school curricula responsive to the overall educational needs of the community and its children." Leebaert v. Harrington, 332 F.3d 134, 141 (2d Cir. 2003). No parent has the right "to tell a public school what his or her child will and will not be taught." Id. Any other rule would put schools in the untenable position of having "to cater a curriculum for each student whose parents had genuine moral disagreements with the school’s choice of subject matter." Brown v. Hot, Sexy and Safer Productions, Inc., 68 F.3d 525, 534 (1st Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1159 (1996). See also Swanson v. Guthrie Indep. School Dist., 135 F.3d 694, 699 (10th Cir. 1998); Littlefield v. Forney Indep. School, 268 F.3d 275, 291 (5th Cir. 2001).

Furthermore, the practical effect of acceding to any request to restrict access to materials will be to invite others to demand changes to reflect their beliefs and to leave school officials vulnerable to multiple, possibly conflicting, demands.

Some parents prefer to keep their children from reading about sex while others may appreciate books like The Tenth Circle and Cradle and All, because they can create opportunities for adults and teens to talk about sensitive topics. Even if the novels’ themes are too mature for some students, they will be meaningful to others. No book is right for everyone, and an optional reading list allows students to make choices according to their own interests, experiences, and family values.  No one has to read something just because it’s on the reading list.

We strongly urge you to keep The Tenth Circle and Cradle and All on the optional reading list in Westhampton Beach.  Those who object to these books 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 book on the list because it conflicts with their personal values; but neither do they or their children have to read it.  We urge you to stand by principles of individual freedom, democracy, and education and keep both books on the list, available to all.

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 you refer to "The Student’s Right to Read," a guideline established by the National Council of Teachers of English and available online at: http://www.ncte.org/about/over/positions/category/cens/107616.htm.
We hope these materials will be useful to you and perhaps to teachers and parents involved in this discussion.  If we can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.


Joan Bertin Chris Finan
Executive Director President
National Coalition Against Censorship American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression




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