VICTORY in Chesterfield County: Challenged Books Remain in Middle School Libraries

Eleanor & ParkIn a victory for the freedom to read, a school district review committee in Chesterfield County, Virginia voted last week to keep three challenged books on middle school library shelves. A small faction of parents had publicly complained at a June school board meeting about Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, Dope Sick by Walter Dean Myers, and Tyrell by Coe Booth, calling them “pornographic,” “vile,” and “trash.”

The three books were originally included on district-wide lists of books recommended (but not required) for summer reading, which were compiled by librarians and shared with parents and students before the end of the school year. After initial complaints, Chesterfield County Public Schools replaced the local lists with links to third-party sites including YALSA, Scholastic, and Read Kiddo Read.

At that time State Sen. Amanda Chase, also a district parent, entered the fray by claiming that because some of the critically praised books from the original lists also appear on the third-party sites, “it’s the same thing” as the district recommending those titles directly. Chase also suggested the librarians who compiled the district lists should be fired for “not recommending books that line up with Chesterfield County Public Schools’ core values” and that the three books named above should “absolutely” be removed from school libraries altogether because “if it’s X-rated material, I don’t want my kids getting their hands on it.”

Last month CBLDF signed on to a letter from the National Coalition Against Censorship to the superintendent and school board, defending the specific books that were informally challenged for “sexually explicit” content and urging the school district not to adopt warning labels or ratings for books, as Chase and other parents had demanded.

Although the complainants never did submit their challenges in writing, as district policy requires, a review committee was nevertheless formed to consider whether the three books are appropriate for middle school libraries. An official summary of the committee’s activities shows that it comprised “three parents representing the Chesterfield County Council of PTAs, a middle school principal, two middle school teachers, a middle school librarian and a member of the school division’s Curriculum and Instruction team.” Committee members read the books in their entirety and then recommended that all three remain in middle school libraries without restriction.

The committee did also recommend “continued professional development for librarians regarding collection development” and “a review of the process by which books are selected for inclusion in the media center at certain school levels to ensure appropriateness for grade level.” Given that all three books in question were in fact judged to be appropriate, these added recommendations are somewhat puzzling. At the same time, though, the committee stipulated that future challenges will only be considered if the complainants follow policy by submitting them in writing. Overall, this is a positive outcome for the freedom to read in Chesterfield County Public Schools!

Check out our past coverage of this story below:

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