Books Win Temporary Reprieve in Pennsylvania

A Pennsylvania school district has retained two challenged titles — Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Curtiss Sittenfeld’s Prep — on its high school reading list. However, the reprieve may be temporary, as the books were retained based on a technicality. From the East Penn News:

Seidenberger said there is a process in place for district residents to challenge books on the reading list. The district did not receive an official complaint about the books until Monday, before the school board meeting.

CBLDF lent its support to the two novels by signing onto a letter written by the Kids’ Right to Read Project (a joint effort of the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression). The books are two of several dozen that appear on the high school reading list. They were challenged by parents who felt that sexual content in the titles was inappropriate and “pornographic.” School Director Julian Stolz agreed with the parents, asking for a vote regarding the books at the East Penn School District school board meeting that took place on Monday.

The East Penn News further reports on school board president Charles Ballard’s concerns about the challenge:

School board President Charles Ballard warned the board to put off taking action until after the district goes through the formal process of reviewing a written complaint made to the district Monday night.

“We have a very serious constitutional law issue here,” Ballard said. “The Supreme Court has already ruled that school boards have no right to censor material unless they use a process that is facially unbiased … .”

“Before taking board action,” he added, “we should have an investigation, a finding of facts and a committee report providing us with a rational basis for taking any action. To do otherwise would subject the district to potential legal action.”

Some of the individuals opposed to the books also spoke during the meeting, claiming that they were not interested in banning the books. From East Penn News:

…Garrett Rhoads Jr. read an excerpt of “Prep” that contains sexual content, before calling it “reprehensible trash.”

“I’m not asking you to ban any book from the library,” Rhoads said. “I’m asking you to stop promoting sexually explicit material to 13 and 14-year-old children.”

Jeff Lotte, one of the two people who initially brought the books to the school board’s attention this month, said he wasn’t seeking to have a book banned.

Kevin Bartholomew of Emmaus echoed that sentiment, adding: “Just take them off the list. Don’t introduce it to my kids.”

High school student Neil Ren defends the challenged books. (Source: East Penn News)

According to East Penn News, the students of Emmaus High School have added their voices in support of the retention of the books, pleading their case during the school board meeting:

“We don’t want to be sheltered,” Emmaus High senior Neil Ren told school directors. “It’s counterproductive to cover up things that are prevalent in society.”

Ren and Isaiah Zukowski told the board they had a petition signed by 125 people urging the school board to keep the books as optional summer reading.

“It’s an issue of intellectual freedom and we need to preserve that,” Zukowski said. He and Ren said the student body is “fairly united” on the issue.

Both books have been challenged in the school district before. Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test was upheld after a 2007 challenge. Prep was removed from middle school reading lists after a 2011 challenge, but it was retained on the high school reading list. If the coverage of the already-contentious arguments made during Monday’s school board meeting in the East Penn News is any indication, the current battle could be bloody.

For more on the story, you can view the articles in the East Penn News here and here. You can read the letter that CBLDF signed in support of the books here.

Given their visual nature, graphic novels and comic books are among the most-challenged books in libraries and schools. CBLDF is an official sponsor of Banned Books Week, which takes place September 30 – October 6, 2012. Please help support CBLDF’s defense of your right to read by making a donation or becoming a member of the CBLDF!

Betsy Gomez is the Web Editor for CBLDF.