NC School Board Considers Parental Notification Statement

indexA Currituck County, North Carolina, school board member has revived the controversy over a 2013 book challenge to goad the district into a questionable parental notification statement.

Board member Will Crodick resurrected criticism of A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, a critically-acclaimed novel by Tanya Lee Stone that was unsuccessfully challenged in 2013. The book, which focuses on three girls and their decisions regarding a single boy who has made it his goal to seduce all of the girls in school, has been praised as a frank and relevant take on how teenagers handle sexuality. Ultimately, the girls in the book stand up to the predatory behaviors of the boy — and for themselves in the process — but some parents chose to focus only on the sexual components and profanity in the story.

CBLDF joined the Kids’ Right to Read Project in defending the book. At the time, the school board voted 4-1 to keep the book in the district library, and they also adopted a new policy that allows parents to determine which books their children are allowed to check out. When the policy was passed, a few parents completed a form limiting their child’s use of the library, but no parents completed the form for this school year.

During last week’s school board meeting, Crodick complained that the policy does not protect students. William F. West with the Daily Advance reported on the meeting in which Crodick voiced his complaints. “I’m not real happy that that book is in the high school library with no restrictions put in place,” Crodick said. “If a child is in the custody or the care and guidance of the schools system, as a parent, you can’t have any controls if your child views that book while in that library.”

The school district’s CIO and three of the five current board members, including Chairman Bill Dobney, indicated that they disagreed with Crodick’s attack on the book. “If we did ban that book, we would be abridging someone’s right to read that book if it’s in our library,” Dobney said. “I just can’t see if the parents did not sign to be notified that we should go back and vote to ban the book from our libraries.” The board member who voted against the book in 2013, Karen Etheridge, is still on the board, but reports of her response to the controversy didn’t indicate whether her opinion has changed since the last vote.

Because of Crodick’s complaints, the board decided to develop a statement that informs parents in the district that the library has materials that may not be suitable for all students and that parents should contact their child’s teacher if they think a book is inappropriate. The statement could be placed in the student manual.

While the statement is still being drafted, the fact that the board felt compelled to issue it is concerning. It could open the door to a slew of challenges to books in the system’s libraries and classrooms. Further, such a statement is redundant to the district’s existing reconsideration of instructional resources policy, which reads as follows in the 2016-17 student handbook:

Occasional objections to some instructional or media resources may be voiced by the public despite the care taken in the selection process and despite the qualifications of persons selecting the resources. The term “instructional materials” does not include academic tests or assessments. The Currituck County Board of Education supports principles of intellectual freedom inherent in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and expressed in the Library Bill of Rights of the American Library Association and the Students’ Right to Read of the National Council of Teachers of English. [Emphasis theirs.]

Complaints should be made to the building Principal. If the complaint is not resolved to the satisfaction of the complainant, the Principal will supply the complainant with a copy of Currituck County Board of Education Policy # 3210 and explain the process for initiating a written complaint.

The student handbook also specifically describes the Optional Parental Control / Book Check Out Procedure policy that resulted from the 2013 challenge:

Currituck County Schools recognizes that parents and legal guardians play an important role in guiding their minor children in the voluntary selection of materials from the school library. There are optional procedures designed for that purpose.

If a parent desires to restrict book check out to ONLY the books approved by the parent, the parent should schedule an appointment with the school media specialist to discuss the optional procedure.

Reports indicate that the new statement will invite parents to take their complaints to teachers, but the district’s existing challenge policies direct complaints to principals or the district media specialist, not teachers. The statement could also lead to self-censorship as librarians and educators avoid using potentially controversial titles in order to prevent time-consuming challenges. A free-for-all on book challenges could override the district’s written challenge policy, as instructors and administrators may find it more expedient to remove an “offending” book than to go through the official challenge process.

CBLDF will continue to monitor the situation and post more information if it becomes available.

Help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work in 2017 by visiting the Rewards Zonemaking a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF!