Four months after former Buncombe County school board member Lisa Baldwin filed a challenge to Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner in Asheville, NC, the saga seems to finally have come to an end with a change in the school district policy that had effectively removed the book even though the challenge was defeated.
Last Thursday, the Board voted to revamp its “Parental Inspection of and Objection to Instructional Materials” policy, barring the removal of instructional materials from the classroom or media collection while a challenge is considered.
To refresh your memory: A.C. Reynolds High School’s English II Honors class was due to begin reading The Kite Runner on May 5. In a letter to parents, the teacher explained the literary value of the novel, and noted that it deals with “complex and serious issues” and offered an opt-out for students or their parents who objected. But that wasn’t enough. Baldwin, whose son was in the class, launched a formal complaint on April 29 after receiving the letter. She objected to the language and some of the themes in the book, complaining about graphic descriptions of violence and “inaccurately assigning Judeo-Christian characteristics to a Muslim god.” As per district policy, the book was removed from the classroom while the challenge was considered, and students were assigned All Quiet on the Western Front – the original alternative, and the book that Baldwin actually wanted her son to read.
A building-level reconsideration committee met on May 11 and found that The Kite Runner “merits inclusion in the curriculum and should remain an option to be used as a supplementary novel in whole class settings or as self-selected reading at the teacher’s discretion.” But it was too close to the end of the school year, and the book would not be used in the curriculum.
Essentially, because policy dictated that the book had to be suspended while the appeal was underway, the book was effectively and permanently removed from the 2014-2015 A.C. Reynolds High School’s English II Honors class.
So even though she lost, the challenger effectively had her victory. Still, she appealed the decision of the reconsideration committee, which took the book out of the classroom again. A district-wide reconsideration committee met in June, voted to support the original decision, and sent that to the Board. NCAC sent letters to each decision-maker along the way, and in our June 29th letter, urged the Board to accept the recommendation of the review committee and consider amending the policy that allowed the book to be removed from the classroom in the first place, citing educational and constitutional concerns:
A complainant should not be able to disrupt an entire classroom while the complaint is being considered or the material in question is being reviewed. Doing so compromises the rights of the students and the integrity of the system.
On July 2, the Buncombe County school board voted unanimously to keep the book on its approved reading list. We celebrated the victory. The challenge was finished. But a precedent was set, and there remained a possibility that a single complaint could effectively remove a book from the curriculum before the district’s educators could process the review. The Board sprung into action, offering a revision to its policy in August.
It voted the changes in on September 2. The policy now reads:
No instructional materials shall be removed from the classroom or media collection until the appeal procedure is completed.
Bravo, Buncombe. If only we had more districts like yours.