Just last week, we reported an ongoing battle at a Texas high school over the suspension of seven books on its approved reading list. Highland Park High School’s decision to suspend the books for their adult themes was met with backlash from parents, teachers, and students who disagreed with the challenges. Dallas News reports that, as of Sunday night, the suspensions have been reversed.
The books that were suspended in Highland Park include a diverse array of contemporary classics: The Art of Racing in the Rain (Garth Stein); The Working Poor: Invisible in America (David K. Shipler); Siddhartha (Herman Hesse); The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie); An Abundance of Katherines (John Green); The Glass Castle: A Memoir (Jeannette Walls); and Song of Solomon (Toni Morrison). Alexie is a perennial favorite among teachers, readers, and would-be censors and seemingly challenged at every school: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was most recently challenged in Brunswick County, NC, where access to the book was restricted. An Abundance of Katherines writer John Green is also no stranger to book challenges, as his other works Paper Towns and Looking For Alaska have faced multiple challenges. Green’s The Fault in Our Stars was also recently banned from middle schools in Riverside, California.
Superintendent Dawson Orr decided to suspend the books as a result of packed school board meetings and countless e-mails from a small but vocal group of parents complaining about the adult content of the books that were being taught in the high school. The suspended books were to remain in the school system’s libraries and allowed during student’s free time, but they were temporarily stricken from the curriculum until they could be reviewed.
To the school district’s surprise, parents, teachers, students and alumni quickly joined forces to fight the challenges. The group created an online petition, which collected over 2,000 signatures, and the ban garnered national attention and criticism, which contributed to the reversal.
Orr explained in an e-mail to parents:
“I made the decision in an attempt to de-escalate the conflict, and I readily admit that it had the opposite effect. I take full responsibility for the decision, and I apologize for the disruption it has caused. All the titles that were temporarily suspended will be restored to the approved reading list.”
Subsequently, the district has revised their policy on book challenges. Challenged books will continue to be taught in classes until a formal decision by a review committee is made. Only one of the seven books, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, has been formally challenged at this time.
Additionally, the district will attempt to improve the review committees for the school’s approved book list. Further, the school system will also send home parental permission slips when a book of questionable nature is being taught, which will give parents the option to request another book for their child.
The reversal of the ban sets a great example, proving that fighting book challenges can actually make a difference. In less than a week, an online petition and media attention helped get seven books back in classrooms. Hopefully, parents, students, and teachers in other schools across the country see this an an impetus to take action and fight book challenges when they happen in their communities.
Eric Margolis is a 2014 St. John’s Law School graduate. You can contact him at EricMargolis310@gmail.com!