Persepolis removed from Chicago Public Schools for “graphic illustrations and language”; OIF & FTRF respond

Censorship, Freedom to Read Foundation

As documented by and numerous other blogs, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) yesterday ordered that all copies of the award-winning graphic novel Persepolis be removed from schools district-wide. Initially the order explicitly included libraries, but the head of school libraries has since issued a directive that, pursuant to its collection development policy, the book is to remain on library shelves.

OIF staff spoke with a CPS official this afternoon, who confirmed that the books were removed due to what she termed “graphic illustrations and language” and concerns about “developmental preparedness” and “student readiness.” While still in school libraries, they have been “temporarily recalled” from classroom libraries and teaching curriculum until CPS can “control” how the book is being presented. She said there was no timeline for CPS’s evaluation. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett also has issued a memo to CPS principals regarding the removal.

The Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) has filed a FOIA request for all documents related to this action and, jointly with OIF, has sent a letter urging reconsideration of the action (see the text of the letter below).

Follow @OIF and @FTRF on Twitter for the latest on this developing situation.


Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Chief Executive Officer for Chicago Public Schools

David Vitale, President of the Chicago Board of Education

Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago

March 15, 2013

Dear Ms. Byrd-Bennett, Mr. Vitale, and Mayor Emanuel:

On behalf of both the American Library Association (ALA) and its First Amendment legal arm, the Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF), I am writing to express our organizations’ deep concern regarding the “recall” of the book Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi from multiple Chicago Public Schools (CPS) high schools. Persepolis is an award-winning work that is well reviewed and widely praised for its sensitive and remarkable depiction of a young woman’s coming of age during the Iranian Revolution.

Earlier this week, a directive was issued by administrators at the Fullerton network and Lane Tech High Schools for this book to be removed from school libraries and classrooms. Emails from Aisha Strong of Fullerton and Christopher Dignam of Lane Tech explicitly direct CPS staff to physically remove Persepolis from classrooms and libraries. A subsequent email from Jeremy Dunn provides “clarification from the Chief Education Office that the directive to remove Persepolis from schools does not apply to school libraries, and that any further challenge or attempt to remove this or any other book from a school library must be guided by the Collection Development policy which outlines the review procedure.”

While we applaud the CPS Department of Libraries for adhering to its own very well-crafted policies on school library collection development, particularly Policy 604.7, we remain exceedingly troubled by the standing directive to remove the book from classrooms.

We understand that concerns about the content of Persepolis — particularly regarding specific passages, language, and images deemed graphic or otherwise objectionable — were brought forward by a CPS principal, sparking the current removal and review of this book as teaching material. In addition, we understand that the driving concern behind this “recall” is access to Persepolis by CPS seventh graders, yet the book is identified as an instructional text in the CPS Literacy Content Framework (Common Core) Seventh Grade Toolset — a curriculum guide provided to teachers for the 2012-13 school year.

The CPS directive to remove this book from the hands of students represents a heavy-handed denial of students’ rights to access information, and smacks of censorship. Censorship results in the opposite of true education and learning. Young people will only develop the skills they need to analyze information and make choices among a wide variety of competing sources if they are permitted to read books and explore ideas under the guidance of caring adults. As an institution of democracy and learning, CPS has a responsibility to actively model and practice the ideals of free speech, free thought, and access to information at the heart of our democracy.

We fully support the talented CPS teachers and librarians who work so hard to thoughtfully and sensitively explore vital but often difficult ideas and information with their students.

We request and would appreciate an explanation of these actions, and we encourage you to both retain and return the book as quickly as possible to the students of Chicago Public Schools. Such action will reaffirm the importance and value of the freedom to read. We must send the message to students that in this country they have the right and responsibility to think critically about what they read, rather than allowing others to do their thinking for them.




Barbara Jones

Director, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom

Executive Director, Freedom to Read Foundation



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