Pasco County, Florida superintendent of schools Kurt Browning has decided not to ban Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower district-wide, following a review committee’s vote earlier this week to remove it from one middle school. Although the review committee included no high school representation, members had recommended that the book be banned at that level as well.
The book had been assigned to a 7th grade advanced language arts class at Pasco Middle School by a long-term substitute teacher who had neglected to read it beforehand as required by district policy. Browning himself reportedly told a middle school parent by email that he found the book “inappropriate for any student in the Pasco School system,” but he may have reconsidered after feedback from other parents and students, as well as criticism from Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano. (Another column by Times Book Editor Colleen Bancroft went up today.)
Accusations of censorship are no doubt fresh in Browning’s mind since he also headed the district in 2014, when John Green’s Paper Towns was quietly removed from the 8th grade summer reading list without following the challenge policy. After much local and national criticism, Browning claimed that no censorship had taken place and district officials did not think they needed to follow the challenge policy for summer reading assignments.
Although it is standard practice in school districts across the country that a school-level review committee’s decision on a book challenge only applies at that school, apparently this is not clear enough in Pasco County’s existing policy. District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe told the Times that administrators met on Tuesday to consider the issue, and it was decided “we are going to make [the policy] more clear and more tight, so there’s no question if it’s a school-level challenge it applies only to that school.”
Despite the hiccups along the way, it is gratifying to see that Browning and Pasco County now seem to be making a good faith effort to observe the challenge policy, and clarification certainly can’t hurt! We hope to see Perks restored to high school classrooms for supplemental reading very soon.
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.