The Highland Park, TX Independent School District has been in the news recently regarding seven books that were unilaterally suspended last month from the English curriculum by Superintendent Dawson Orr.
Opponents to several titles questioned how books are chosen for school assignments and they have demanded that books be removed until they have been re-approved by new committees. On September 24, parents in the school district received an email from Superintendent Dawson Orr and Principal Walter Kelly responding to the requests. You can read in the email that books (Nineteen Minutes and Perks of Being a Wallflower) that were on the approved list before have been removed. Seven books were suspended from the current curriculum. And books that may have “unsuitable” content now require a parent permission form.
Dr. Dawson Orr received a lot of criticism for banning the books. Many parents joined efforts to reverse his action. There were many concerns about how removing the books would effect the standing of AP classes with the College Board. And parents demanded that their children have the freedom to read books that were chosen by professionally educated teachers. In Dr. Orr’s September 29 email to parents, he openly takes responsibility, explains his reasoning, and apologizes for his misstep. While the superintendent has since reinstated those books to the reading list, there is still much discussion about district policy, book selection, and permission slips.
According to the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, parent permission slips should be sent home for all books that meet the following criteria:
- Books that currently are being challenged by HPISD parents
- Books that are on the American Library Association’s Top 10 Challenged Book List by Year – going back 10 years (http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10)
- Books that have been indicated by our local HPHS literary selection committee as needing a permission slip
This is where the Office for Intellectual Freedom has stepped in. OIF Director Barbara Jones submitted a letter to the school board, superintendent, and principal expressing concern at the use of permission forms and particularly at the use of ALA’s annual Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged and Banned Books List as a means of identifying so-called “objectionable texts.” In the letter, Jones writes:
[ALA's] Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged or Banned Books List is not and has never been a judgment on the quality or educational suitability of a work or a valid designation that the book is “objectionable.” This is especially so since many challenges to books are determined to be without merit. Indeed, many challenges are motivated not by a challenger’s concern about educational suitability but instead by the challenger’s discriminatory and often unconstitutional beliefs regarding literature that incorporates themes and elements addressing race, religion, homosexuality, or unorthodox views. These biased and uninformed challenges, often disguised as an “unsuited for age group” objection, should never be used as grounds for determining restrictions on public school books and curricula. Employing the ALA’s Top Ten Most Challenged or Banned Books List as a curriculum standard substitutes the unthinking opinion of a crowd for the considered judgment of the professional educators on your
Moreover, delegating the Board’s legal authority to determine what books may be freely taught in the classroom to a private association like the ALA raises certain due process issues, especially when the criteria used to determine the ALA Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged and Banned Books list are not narrowly and reasonably drawn definitive standards but the mere circumstance that someone, somewhere, complained about the book for any one of a number of reasons.
Read the rest of the letter from OIF here.
The Highland Park School Board met on Tuesday night and the issue continued to dominate discussion. Read a report of the meeting here.