CBLDF Urges Objectivity for Highland Park School Board

As the Dallas-area Highland Park Independent School District continues to deal with parental complaints about certain books approved for classroom use, CBLDF yesterday joined the National Coalition Against Censorship and five other free speech organizations to send a letter urging the school board and superintendent to make decisions “based solely on sound educational grounds” rather than trying to appease anyone.

The controversy started during the summer months, when some parents shared out-of-context excerpts from books on the district’s approved reading list via social media. Tensions were high by the time school resumed this fall, and Superintendent Dawson Orr suspended seven books from the curriculum despite the fact that only one–Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain–had a formal challenge against. Orr quickly reversed the mass suspension when other parents and students protested.

That doesn’t mean that Highland Park students’ freedom to read is assured, however; last month NCAC organizational members sent a letter objecting to a proposed flagging and rating system to identify books with “potentially objectionable content.” The American Library Association also took exception to the proposed misuse of its annual lists of the top ten banned and challenged books. The school board has not yet voted on the flagging proposal or on the challenge to The Art of Racing in the Rain, which is currently being reviewed by a reconsideration committee made up of teachers, librarians, parents, and students.

In the second letter sent in advance of the next board meeting tonight, NCAC organizational members pointed out that the best way to end the debate is to “adopt policies and procedures that make it clear that curricular decisions will be based solely on educational grounds, not on the opinions or preferences of any individual or group.” In fact, the district already has such policies in place and only needs to follow them:

While parents have a right to ‘raise an objection to an instructional resource used in a school’s educational program,’ (Guiding Principles, EFA [LOCAL]), that is as far as their rights extend. ‘There is no requirement that the Board negotiate or even respond to complaints. However, the Board must stop, look, and listen and must consider the petition, address, or remonstrance.’ (Public Complaints, GF [LEGAL]). In addition, the policy makes it clear that ‘[a] parent’s ability to exercise control over reading, listening, or viewing matter extends only to his or her own children.’ The plain import of these policies is that parents are entitled to object and request accommodations for their own children, but they have no right to demand changes in the curriculum that would affect the education of other students.

Watch this space for news of the board’s actions tonight, and check out the full letter below:


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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.