Florida seems to be the place for unilateral book bans this summer. A few weeks after a Pensacola high school principal cancelled an entire summer reading program rather than let students read Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, now a Tampa-area school district has removed Paper Towns by John Green from an eighth-grade summer reading list without following its own policy on challenged books.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the move came last weekend after parent Joanne Corcoran emailed Pasco County School Board member Joanne Hurley about references to teen sex and masturbation in the book, which she referred to as “soft porn.” To her credit though, Corcoran did not ask for the book to be removed from the list; she says all she wanted was “some warning that the content might not be suitable for some children.” Unlike many parents who challenge books, she recognized that while she didn’t want her own daughter reading Paper Towns, it might be perfectly fine for other students.
But instead of addressing Corcoran’s individual concern by following its very thorough policy on challenged materials (under Policy 2520 – Selection of Instructional Materials and Equipment), the school district simply removed the book from the reading list over the weekend. According to the policy, the book should have been reviewed by an ad hoc committee appointed by the school’s principal and comprised of two administrators, two teachers, and four members of the public, who would present their findings in a public meeting. Obviously all of that probably didn’t happen between last Friday, when Corcoran emailed Hurley, and Monday morning, when the book had disappeared from the reading list.
In fact, there is no indication that the school’s principal was ever consulted. Instead the decision seems to have come from the district’s central office, where Assistant Superintendent Amelia Larson said she “was concerned that book had been assigned for eighth grade.” Board member Hurley agreed, saying that Paper Towns didn’t pass her own personal “grandmother test” — that is, she wouldn’t want her eighth grade granddaughter reading the book either. This may be news to Larson and Hurley, but the subjective reactions of one or two people do not justify censoring a book for all eighth graders. That’s why the review policy exists, but it does no one any good if it’s not observed.
We urge the Pasco County School District to reconsider this rash decision and to restore Paper Towns to the reading list until a properly-formed review committee can determine how to address Corcoran’s concern. We will keep you updated on any further developments!
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.