The National Coalition Against Censorship has written to district officials in Fairfax County, Virginia after two books were removed from school libraries pending the results of a parenting challenge. The books, Jonathan Evison’s Lawn Boy and Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, are both award-winning young adult novels aimed at readers ages 12-18. The removal does the students a disservice and may violate the First Amendment.
The books were challenged by a parent who was upset by their depictions of sexual situations. NCAC is deeply concerned about the removal of the books before a review could be completed. Under current district regulations, a challenge can take up to 120 days to resolve, so any parent disputes can prevent the use of a book for most of the school year.
The Supreme Court found that public school officials ‘discretion in relation to the removal of library books is particularly limited in order to protect students’ right of access to information, as “students must always be free to inquire to study and evaluate in order to gain new maturity and new understanding ”and“ the school library is the main place of this freedom ”. Board of Education v Pico, 457 US 853, 868-69 (1982).
In the same case, the court also warned: “[l]Local school authorities are not allowed to simply remove books from library shelves because they do not like the ideas contained in those books and, by removing them, are trying to dictate what should be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other issues of opinion. Pico, 457 U.S. 853,872 (1982). Hence, the removal of books from public school libraries to suppress ideas is a violation of the First Amendment.
Teenage books often deal with mature ideas in nuanced ways. Too often books are banned for certain scenes or passages that are torn from the context of the overall work. A committee of experts has the task of examining the value of the work as a whole and not judging it on the basis of individual words, scenes or images. Books are often the safest and most accessible way for young people to come to terms with new ideas and situations and can reflect their realities in life that they otherwise fear. While individual parents are free to choose what their own children read, they cannot determine which materials all students have access to.
In addition to reminding the district of their responsibilities for the First Amendment, the NCAC offered to help update their review guidelines to align with best practice.
The letter from NCAC was co-signed by the Authors Guild, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, National Council of Teachers of English, PEN America’s Children’s and Young Adult Books Committee, and Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Read the full letter to the school district below. Click here for a full screen view: