During the week of March 11, 2013, directives were issued by administrators at Chicago Public Schools’ Fullerton school network and Lane Tech High School to remove Marjane Sartrapi’s acclaimed graphic novel Persepolis from school libraries and classrooms on the grounds that the book contained inappropriate language and images.
The directive to remove Persepolis from CPS’ libraries and classrooms became public after students at Lane Tech alerted their colleagues in the school’s journalism program. Bloggers and critics publicized the directive and the apparent effort to ban the book from CPS classrooms and students took to the streets to protest the book’s removal. As the protests mounted, CPS administrators slowly backtracked on the initial directive; CPS Chief Barbara Byrd Bennett eventually issued a letter denying that there was any effort to ban the book and limiting the directive to remove Persepolis to 7th grade classrooms.
ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Freedom to Read Foundation were involved from the beginning, supporting the students and organizations that sought to keep the book in CPS classrooms, publicly protesting the apparent censorship of a critically praised work of literature, and seeking information about the events leading up to the decision to remove the book. In response to a FTRF Freedom of Information Act request that asked for all correspondence and electronic communications related to the decision to remove Persepolis from CPS classrooms, we only received the directives and letters that had already been publicly disclosed, and a copy of the agenda for the chief of schools meeting on March 11, 2013. That document contained no information at all about Persepolis or the decision to remove or recall the book. We remained in the dark about who had filed the initial complaint about Persepolis and who had made the decision to remove the book from CPS classrooms.
Then Jarrett Dapier, an intrepid MLIS candidate at the University of Illinois’ Graduate School of Library and Information Science, filed his own FOIA request in order to gather materials for his paper on school censorship. And in December 2014, CPS provided Dapier with the emails and correspondence we – and other organizations – were told did not exist in 2013.
Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader has already written about the contents of the emails. With the permission of Mr. Dapier, we are now sharing the actual emails and correspondence – which reveal that, contrary to CPS’ public statements in 2013, there was in fact an effort to remove Persepolis from all schools and libraries in CPS. The emails detail the initial complaint, the decision to remove the book, and the eventual modification of the original directive to remove the book from CPS classrooms and libraries. (It’s important to note that Persepolis remained in school libraries only because a strong reconsideration policy – CPS Policy 604.7 – prevented its removal without sufficient review and due process.) The emails are an object lesson in casual censorship, the ability of one person to pass judgment on a work of literature, and the chaotic decision-making that occurs when a school system fails to have policies in place to address demands to censor classroom materials.
Our thanks to Mr. Dapier for his initiative and perseverance in obtaining these public records.