The superintendent of schools in Wallingford, Connecticut, is doubling down on his decision to overrule a review committee’s recommendation and remove Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower from the district’s curriculum. After receiving local and national criticism for the ban, including a letter from CBLDF and other members of NCAC’s Kids’ Right to Read Project, Superintendent Salvatore Menzo now claims that the book was removed because its reading level is too low, not because of a parent and school board member’s objections to its content.
Jean Pierre Bolat, the father of a Sheehan High School freshman, filed a challenge to the book last fall because he objected to passages regarding “homosexuality, masturbation, sex and a ‘glorification of alcohol use and drugs.’” A review committee made up of teachers, administrators, and a librarian rejected the challenge because individual parents and students are free to request an alternate assignment if they’re uncomfortable with a particular book.
In January, Bolat was appointed to fill a vacancy on the school board, but he simultaneously pushed forward with the book challenge, appealing the review committee’s decision to Menzo. Bolat met with the superintendent about the book after he had become, in the words of Town Councillor Craig Fishbein, “one of Menzo’s nine supervisors.”
Menzo initially made no comment on why he overruled the review committee, but at a school board meeting Monday night he said it had nothing to do with the book’s content, but with “irregularities in the curriculum.” He also claimed that Perks is “written at a fourth- to sixth-grade level” and “we should have something a little more challenging for our students.” While it’s true that the book’s grade-equivalent reading level (6.1, according to publisher Scholastic) is a bit lower than its interest level (grades 9-12), Menzo surely knows that makes it a valuable tool for teachers trying to engage high school readers who have learning difficulties or are otherwise delayed in reading. This school year, two out of 13 possible English classes read the book; presumably the teachers who selected it did so with knowledge of their students’ abilities and interests.
Menzo’s decision is not going unchecked locally, however; in addition to the online petition from 2014 Wallingford graduate Connor Reed and the formal objection from district parent Holly Lafond, who is asking the school board to review Menzo’s decision, a Freedom of Information Act request seeking Bolat’s written complaint and any other information about the challenge has been filed with the district. Those documents will be posted online when and if they’re released, so we will keep you updated!
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.