CBLDF Urges School District To Rescind Ban of SideScrollers

September 19, 2012
By

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and partner organizations in the Kids Right to Read Project today sent a letter to Enfield School District Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Schumann addressing concerns over the removal of Matthew Loux’s graphic novel SideScrollers from high school summer reading lists.  The letter voices concern about whether the district followed its own policies for removing the critically acclaimed graphic novel, and calls for the ban to be rescinded. A PDF of the letter is available here: Enfield Sidescrollers Joint Letter.

SideScrollers was removed as an option on a Connecticut school district’s ninth grade summer reading list after a resident complained of profanity and sexual references in the book earlier this month. The joint letter outlines the case:

As we understand it, the District requires a written request for reconsideration, which triggers a review of the challenged material by a committee to evaluate the merits of the material and make a recommendation to the Board of Education. None of these steps was taken in the present case. The ban was triggered by a verbal complaint from a person who is not even the parent of a child in the school. The District’s policy contemplates challenges only by parents. It states that “no parent nor group of parents has the right to negate the use of educational resources for students other than his/her own child.” (6163.1a) (Emphasis added.) This is a reasonable restriction, since it allows complaints to be resolved by providing alternative assignments, rather than restricting the access of all students because of the concerns of some parents. In the case of the summer reading list, five alternatives were already offered.

Speaking of the CBLDF’s interest in this matter, Executive Director Charles Brownstein says, “CBLDF is dedicated to ensuring that individual adults and parents of children are free to make their own decisions about what comics they want in their household.  One of the core principles we strive to protect is that parents have a right to choose what comics are appropriate for their children to read, and that all parents should be afforded that same freedom of choice.  In Enfield, Connecticut, where this ban happened, one resident’s complaint resulted in the school district taking away other parents’ freedom to choose whether or not they wanted their child to have the option of reading Mr. Loux’s critically acclaimed work.  We sincerely hope that the school district rescinds their decision to ban Mr. Loux’s book, and restores the freedom of choice to the parents of children in their schools.”

The full text of the letter is below:

September 19, 2012

Dr. Jeffrey Schumann
Superintendent
Enfield School District
27 Shaker Rd
Enfield, CT 06082

Dear Dr. Schumann,

We are writing to express our concern over the removal of the graphic novel Sidescrollers (Oni Press) from high school summer reading lists in the Enfield School District. We are concerned both with the merits of the removal of the book from the list, and with the procedures the district followed in taking this action.

As we understand it, the District requires a written request for reconsideration, which triggers a review of the challenged material by a committee to evaluate the merits of the material and make a recommendation to the Board of Education. None of these steps was taken in the present case. The ban was triggered by a verbal complaint from a person who is not even the parent of a child in the school. The District’s policy contemplates challenges only by parents. It states that “no parent nor group of parents has the right to negate the use of educational resources for students other than his/her own child.” (6163.1a) (Emphasis added.) This is a reasonable restriction, since it allows complaints to be resolved by providing alternative assignments, rather than restricting the access of all students because of the concerns of some parents. In the case of the summer reading list, five alternatives were already offered.

In removing the book, you have allowed the vocal complaints of one resident —not even a parent—not only to dictate what texts student may read and discuss but to undermine the judgment of your professional staff. The teachers of Enfield and Enrico Fermi high schools have been compiling summer reading lists based on professional reviews and the opinions of Media Specialists without controversy for years. Sidescrollers has been an item on the reading list for several years, since the graphic novel category was introduced.

Sidescrollers, Matt Loux’s popular graphic novel about three slacker friends was named one of the Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens in 2008 by the American Library Association. The book’s anti-bullying and anti-drinking message is delivered in a way that teens find organic rather than preachy, through dialogue that approximates the way these characters would really speak to one another. For that reason, it speaks to young people—and specifically to students who might be reluctant readers—in a way that more sanitized texts might not.

As public officials, school boards are bound by the obligation to adhere to constitutional principles. School officials “may not remove books from library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’” Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 872 (1982)(plurality opinion). The failure to follow the district’s own procedures and the unwarranted removal of the book raise serious due process and First Amendment concerns. The proposal to create a system to review texts in the future for summer reading does nothing to address these serious concerns. It remains to be seen whether such a system, if implemented, adheres to constitutional standards, which require that the selection of materials be based solely on educationally-sound criteria. If instead the purpose is to rate or evaluate books based on whether they contain “controversial” content, that will raise not only additional constitutional concerns, but also questions about the nature and quality of the education students receive.

For your information, we suggest you refer to “The Student’s Right to Read,” a guideline established by the National Council of Teachers of English and available online at: http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/righttoreadguideline. In addition, NCAC offers an online Guide to the First Amendment in Schools, available at: http://ncac.org/education/schools/index.cfm. We hope these materials will be useful to you and others involved in this discussion.

We strongly urge you rescind your ban on Sidescrollers. Those who object to this book are entitled to their view, but they may not impose it on others. They have no constitutional right to restrict students’ access to a book because it conflicts with their personal values. We urge you to stand by the principle that is so essential to individual freedom, democracy, and a good education: the right to read, inquire, question, and think for ourselves.

If we can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Sincerely,

Joan Bertin
Executive Director
National Coalition Against Censorship

Chris Finan
President
American Booksellers Foundation For Free Expression

Charles Brownstein
Executive Director
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Judith Platt
Director, Free Expression Advocacy
Association of American Publishers

Florie Kichler
President
The Independent Book Publishers Association

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write & International Programs
PEN American Center

Millie Davis
Senior Developer, Affiliate Groups and Public Outreach
National Council of Teachers of English
cc: Anne MacKiernan, Chief Academic Officer
Kevin Fealy, Jr., Member, Enfield Board of Education
Tina LeBlanc, Member, Enfield Board of Education
Vincent M. Grady, Vice Chairman, Enfield Board of Education
Timothy Neville, Chairman, Enfield Board of Education
Joyce Hall, Member, Enfield Board of Education
Jennifer Rancourt, Member, Enfield Board of Education
Charles L. Johnson III, Member, Enfield Board of Education
Donna Szewczak, Secretary, Enfield Board of Education

See Also:

CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein Speaks to the Ban of SideScrollers

Banned Comics

Charles Brownstein is the Executive Director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Because of their visual nature, graphic novels are among the most challenged books in libraries around the nation. CBLDF is a sponsor of Banned Books Week, which takes place September 30 – October 6, 2012. Please help support CBLDF’s defense of your right to read by making a donation or becoming a member of the CBLDF!