VA Parent Leads Summer Reading Censorship Campaign

The school year may be winding down for students across the United States, but upset parents in Chesterfield County, Virginia, have been hard at work the past few months in a successful campaign to have titles they call “pornographic,” “vile,” and “trash” removed from the county’s Public School summer reading list.

As the Chesterfield Observer reports, the debate among Chesterfield parents and the CCPS administration began last year when parent Shannon Easter raised objections regarding four titles included in the Midlothian High School summer reading list. Citing sources like non-profit Common Sense Media and Plugged In, which is part of the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family, Easter complained that several of the book selections were inappropriate — a complaint that eventually led to their ultimate removal from the list.

In light of last year’s situation, this year Midlothian High School opted to use CCPS’ county-wide summer reading list, but Easter and others simply transferred their objections to that list’s selections. Whether it be Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park, Coe Booth’s Tyrell, or Dope Sick by multiple award-winning author Walter Dean Myers, Easter argued that many of the books contained subject matter that was inappropriate for students and as such should be removed.

Much like last year, Easter’s efforts appear to be successful. Earlier this month, both the high school and middle school reading lists were revised, the previously-mentioned titles removed, and a disclaimer added, noting: “Chesterfield County Public Schools does not endorse any specific titles on these lists. Not all parents will consider all of the books on these sites to be appropriate, so parents are encouraged to visit the sites for reviews to determine which books are appropriate for their children or visit a county library to speak with a librarian.”

Although the books no longer appear on the reading lists, CCPS’ chief academic officer Donna Dalton said that a formal panel to review the titles will be held in August as required by district policy 3031-R. “We hope that we are proactively addressing concerns raised by our parents over sensitive reading materials,” Dalton said.

In spite of these actions, though, Easter continues her campaign against other public third-party lists recommended on the CCPS’ website, including those published by Scholastic, Read Kiddo Read, and YASLA. “You can get right back to all this trash in two links,” says Easter, whose main argument is that all of these lists contain pornographic materials. “I’m not paying them tax dollars to entertain my children, and if I were paying them to entertain my children, I certainly wouldn’t want them doing it with pornography,” Easter told the Chesterfield Observer. “We are focused on getting the pornography off of the reading list and out of the hands of our kids.”

As Svetlana Mintcheva of NCAC aptly notes, though, “A reading list has many alternatives, so no parent that doesn’t want to have their kid read a particular book has to read that book. What is problematic is when a group of parents impose their views on an entire community.” This is exactly what Easter and her compatriots are doing, much to the detriment of the students they are claiming to protect. “The worries and viewpoint of one parent should not be imposed on those of an entire community,” writes NCAC, adding.

This is particularly the case when the community is itself diverse. At a time when the need for diversity is increasingly echoed in all parts of society, it is important that cultural backgrounds — ethnic, religious or otherwise — are recognized and upheld in education systems. And what better way to do this than through engaging and interesting literature.

“I think that’s very sad,” says James LaRue, director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom. “We often say we want our children to grow up adaptable, flexible, productive good citizens. As they become adults, they will have to deal with controversial materials, and at the core of every great classic is conflict. To have our children be resilient and smart, they have to grow to ask questions and not be afraid.”

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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!