Information is coming to light that the award-winning graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, has been removed from a high school library in New Jersey without following the appropriate procedures for challenging instructional materials. The removal occurred after administrators learned about another challenge to the graphic novel in the same state, most likely the recent complaints in Watchung, NJ. Back in May, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund in collaboration with National Coalition Against Censorship as part of the Kids’ Right to Read Project supported the administration as they ultimately decided to keep the graphic novel in their curriculum – putting students and their own education experience over the complaints of a few parents in the district.
With this most recent removal, it seems that the policies regarding challenges to resources were not followed, because the book was removed without a written complaint, committee meetings, or adhering to curriculum guidelines. According to the district’s policies, complaints about instructional or resource materials (which includes textbooks, library books, reference works, and other instructional materials) must be made in writing with a form found in the principles office, and contain:
- The title, author, and publisher of the work being challenged
- A list by page and item with the specific problematic portions or language
- The challenger’s familiarity with the work
- The reasons for the challenge
- The pupils or class for whom the work is intended
- The way in which the work is being used
Within two weeks the Superintendent is supposed to form a committee to evaluate the material noted in the complaint. The committee should include:
- The head of the department most relevant to work
- A teacher of the subject area of the work
- A member of the library staff
- A member of the Board
- A layperson with knowledge applicable to the work
- The Principal of a school in which the work is used
The committee as a whole should meet and discuss the material challenged and whether it adheres to the standards set in Policy 2530, which states “the responsibility for coordinating and recommending the selection and purchase of media rests with the certificated library/media personnel.” Beyond that, the guidelines suggest that ”Curricular materials should:
- Be relevant to today’s world;
- Represent artistic, historic, and literary qualities;
- Reflect problems, aspirations, attitudes, and ideals of a society;
- Contribute to the objectives of the instructional program;
- Be appropriate to the level of the user;
- Represent differing viewpoints on controversial subjects;
- Provide a stimulus to creativity.”
These guidelines speak directly to the experience of reading Bechdel’s memoir Fun Home. In the most recent challenge the graphic novel, the school had decided to include it in their senior curriculum after two years of studying ways to improve the diversity of texts they used. They sought to reflect better the diversity of students who attended the school after the Superintendent became aware that alumni felt their experience was not mirrored appropriately in the instructional materials the school used.
This challenge is just in the beginning stages, and as of yet none of the proper procedures have been followed. The graphic novel, which had been in the library’s collection without challenge or complaint for over a decade, has at this time been removed without written challenge, official committee review, or regarding the curriculum standards. Policy 9130, which deals with challenges to instructional resources and materials clearly states:
No challenged material may be removed from the curriculum or from a collection of resource materials except by action of the Board of Education, and no challenged material may be removed solely because it presents ideas that may be unpopular or offensive to some. Any Board action to remove material will be accompanied by the Board’s statement of its reasons for the removal.
Hopefully, shining a light on this error in procedure will help restore the graphic novel to the shelf where it belongs, sooner rather than later. We will keep you posted as this situation develops.
Check out CBLDF’s Fun Home Discussion Guide and see if you can incorporate this groundbreaking graphic novel into your classroom or book club! Or grab your very own copy of the memoir that became an award-winning musical, signed and sketched by Alison Bechdel!