Bypassing committee review entirely, a principal in Leon County, Florida made the decision to pull The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time from Lincoln High School’s summer reading list after receiving complaints from parents over “inappropriate” content in the book. Principal Allen Burch’s reason: He wanted to “give the opportunity for the parents to parent.”
The decision to police and ultimately remove the title from the summer curriculum without consulting the review committee is a violation of existing Leon County School policies designed to offer fair evaluation of materials that are contested. According to the policies, if complaints are received regarding materials being used as part of school curriculum, principals will determine the validity of the complaint and then, if determined to be valid, will enlist the assistance of a review committee to decide whether a book remains in the curriculum or if it is pulled. Burch’s unilateral decision to remove the book from his school’s summer reading program without consulting the review committee does not comply with established policy and as such is being seen by many as an act of censorship.
“This case is very startling,” said Sarah Hoffman, program manager at the National Coalition Against Censorship. “A handful of parents are making choices for every other parent in that school. There is a reason policies are in place — to protect educators and the decisions they make.”
It not just people outside of the community who are upset by the erroneous decision. Other parents who do not object to the book’s inclusion in the summer reading program have come forward to express their concern for what it means when a single educator takes it upon himself to make a decision for an entire school. “I was stunned,” said Valerie Mindlin, a parent whose children attended Lincoln High School. “I feel like it is second-guessing teachers. I never thought that the school would participate in an act of censorship… At what point do you let parents decide the curriculum for an entire school?”
The award-winning book is no stranger to being challenged. In 2013, parents from the Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, school district challanged the book for what they considered excessive use of profanity. And in 2014, the book was temporarily banned at a Wilson County school in Tennessee for the same reasons. In both cases, school board review committees convened and evaluated the book, and in both cases it was determined that the book should remain in classrooms.
Both of these past cases demonstrate the importance of the review committee to review materials in an objective way as opposed to a knee-jerk reaction to pull content based on a challenge from a very small minority of parents. Leon County School officials noted that as the book is part of the summer reading program and not part of the “true curriculum” it is more difficult situation to handle and that it can bypass the review process when a book is contested.
Although the book has been confirmed as being pulled, it will remain at the school library for students to check out. Regarding the decision and the way that the situation was handled overall, though, there is still opportunity for students and parents upset by the recent events to petition and voice their concerns and take steps to prevent this egregious violation of policy from occurring again.
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!