Mere weeks after the graphic novel Fun Home was restored in a New Jersey school district, the policy (2530) that ushered in that victory was rewritten to drastically change the power for future decisions and remove all language in support of free speech. The new policy removes references to the intellectual freedom, literature reflecting the world we live in, the First Amendment, and more. Worst of all, with the language as it stands now, if a comic or novel were challenged today the chance of the school district being able to retain it seems minuscule. CBLDF, as co-sponsors of Kids’ Right to Read Project (KRRP), wrote a letter to a New Jersey Superintendent urging him to reverse the autocratic changes made to the North Hunterdon-Voorhees School District’s policy on instructional materials.
From the KRRP Letter to Superintendent Bender,
We write to express our concern that recent changes to Policy 2530, which govern the selection of instructional materials in classrooms and libraries, will heighten the risk of censorship in North Hunterdon-Voorhees district. This concern is aggravated by the fact that the policy changes were adopted shortly after the graphic novel “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” was returned to library shelves over your personal objections. We urge you to adopt policies designed to bolster rather than undermine free expression protections in your District. We are writing to offer you guidance in the design of such policies.
To view the policy changes, check out CBLDF’s in-depth coverage here. But you can just look at the screenshot below to to gain a disturbing glimpse into the policy shifts. According to National Coalition Against Censorship, who have been following this issue closely and our the parent organization of KRRP, the following image is a screen cap from the policy history comparison tool available within the board’s online policy manual. It is looking at the policy for reconsideration of instructional materials, a subsection of the above policy 2530.
Note the removal of “North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional High School District Board of Education supports principles of intellectual freedom inherent [in] the First Amendment” as well as “In the event that materials are questioned, the principles of intellectual freedom, the right to access of materials and the integrity of the certified library/media personnel must be defended.” While every school board policy is different, and all might not mention the First Amendment and intellectual freedom, the removal of these things is highly suspect. When added to the removal of criteria saying instructional materials should be relevant to the world we live in and spark creativity in students, plus the consolidation of all decision making power to the Superintendent, it looks bad, not just for the administration, but for the students, and for the precedent it sets.
From the KRRP to Superintendent Bender,
As worded, the current policy vests absolute authority in the sole person of the Superintendent to select and remove books without a review of their educational merits. This change may lead to a perception that decisions about instructional material will be made based on your subjecting opinion, rather than pedagogical goals. That perception is further supported by the fact that these amendments immediately followed your effort to remove Fun Home based on opinion about a single page, rather than a review of the book as a whole.
We strongly recommend that you restore credibility to the book selection process by delegating responsibility to librarians and teachers.
You can read the letter in full below, and check out a deeper analysis of the changes to the policy, plus see the main texts of both the original policy and the recent revision, here. We encourage our readers and supporters to never accept policy changes that infringe on their rights or the rights of their friends and families. The First Amendment doesn’t just apply to speech, it also applies to reading and the belief that every citizen has the right to access a wide variety of ideas from the marketplace, not just the ideas approved of by one Superintendent.