Yet another school district, in Delaware this time, has removed a book from a summer reading list without following its own procedure for reviewing challenged materials. The Cape-Gazette newspaper reported today that the Cape Henlopen school board voted on June 12 to remove Emily M. Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post as an option on a list for incoming freshmen, even though at least two board members admitted not having read the entire book.
The book about a lesbian teen in rural Montana was a 2014 nominee for the Delaware Library Association’s Blue Hen Book Award. Incoming Cape Henlopen freshmen enrolled in college prep or honors classes were assigned to read any two of the 10 nominees for teen readers from 2014 and 2015. But even though Miseducation was not required reading, board members said that language used in the book made it inappropriate for the list at all. In fact, board president Spencer Brittingham said that he “knew in less than three minutes that this wasn’t a book I wanted on the list.” His colleague Sandi Minard has also read only excerpts from the book, but described “pages and pages…of the F-word being used.” (Actually, a search of the text on Amazon finds 68 results for all variations of the word “fuck” in the 480-page book.)
Out of seven members, board vice president Roni Posner cast the only dissenting vote in favor of keeping the book on the list, saying she “didn’t believe she had enough 21st century curriculum knowledge to judge what should or shouldn’t be on a reading list created by the state’s school librarians.” In fact, if the board had actually followed its own policy for reviewing challenged materials, the book should have been assessed by teachers and a librarian who do have that expertise. Policy 110 on Instructional Methods, Materials, and Supplies lays out what is supposed to happen when a book is challenged in the Cape Henlopen district:
The principal will chair and appoint a committee of school personnel to reevaluate the materials being questioned and to make recommendations.
The questioned materials shall be read and reevaluated by a committee composed of three certified personnel. The three members shall be selected by the principal of the school and consist of the librarian and two teachers, one of whom must be a specialist in the subject area. The report of this committee shall be completed within 20 school days.
There is no indication that this procedure was followed with The Miseducation of Cameron Post; the Cape-Gazette reports only that “parents examined the reading list and brought concerns to the board.” As we saw just today in another story from Grants Pass, Oregon, two groups of people may have entirely different reactions to the same book–especially if they actually read the whole thing instead of looking at out-of-context excerpts online. The Cape Henlopen school board should follow the example of its colleagues on the other coast and consider Miseducation in its entirety rather than condemning it based on little more than hearsay.
Please help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work by making a donation or becoming a member of the CBLDF!
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.