Since its publication in 1960, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird has been challenged and banned in schools and libraries all over the country. (See timeline graph to the right.)
Biloxi Public Schools
On Thursday, Oct. 12, the Sun Herald published a story about the removal of To Kill a Mockingbird from the Biloxi Public Schools 8th grade curriculum. The book was removed mid-lesson, after students had already started the reading.
The headline read, “District erases ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ from lesson plan.” From there, the story of censorship in Biloxi has spread: Washington Post, Russia Today, TMZ (NSFW), Christian Post, USA Today, Slate, The Wrap, The Hill, US News, Newsweek, Huffington Post (including video from the Today Show), Time, Fox News, Rolling Stone, New York Times and History.com (including an interview with OIF Director Jamie LaRue).
Biloxi Public Schools have been reticent in explaining who complained about the book, what the complaint was, whether they followed district policy, and what the replacement instructional material is. Sources deny that any committee was convened or alternate choices offered. It was just a decision by the superintendent, which is a clear violation of district materials reconsideration policy (IFAB), which reads:
“A student or his/her parent has the right to reject the use of library media center materials which seem incompatible with his/her values and beliefs. Classroom assignments involving library media center materials should provide for alternate choices. However, no parent has the right to determine the reading matter for students other than his/her own children. In addition, in elective courses taken at the student’s option, the student’s right to request alternate choices of reading material will be accommodated based on the availability of equivalent resources weighted against the academic requirements of the course.
Any parent who wishes to request reconsideration of the use of any library media center materials in the school must make his/her request in writing on forms provided through the building principal. The completed form is to be returned to the principal. If the principal is unable to satisfy the complainant during an informal conference, he/she should refer the matter to a Review Committee.
No administrator, library media specialist, or teacher should agree to withdraw an item without referring it to a Review Committee which determines whether the material should be withdrawn from any or all schools.“
Kenny Holloway, the vice president of the Biloxi School Board, told the Sun Herald, “There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable, and we can teach the same lesson with other books.” Classics do make people uncomfortable. That’s because they talk about important issues in ways that resonate and persist across generations. The board and superintendent have not said what book will replace Harper Lee’s classic. Presumably, it won’t make anyone uncomfortable. But was avoiding controversy, and shunning discomfort, really the lesson of To Kill A Mockingbird?
How can you help the students of Biloxi Public Schools?
- Submit a Letter to the Editor at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, MS
- Attend school board meetings (The Board of Trustees meets the third Tuesday of each month at 5 p.m. at the DuKate Building, Annex, 1445 Father Ryan Ave.)
- Write a letter to the Biloxi administration or school board
- Familiariaze yourself with the district’s policy on complaints about instructional materials
- Tweet to @BiloxiSchools
- Educate yourself about banned and challenged books and the harms of censorship (below are two pages from Banned Books: Defending Our Freedom to Read (2017) by Robert P. Doyle, referencing Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.)