Oregon School Board Reconsiders Hasty Ban of Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & ParkAfter a hasty decision last month to pull Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park from an eighth grade classroom without following challenge procedures, the school board of Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton School District has reconsidered and will allow the book to go through the review process as outlined in policy.

Some parents concerned with mentions of sex and sexual abuse in the book brought their concerns to a school board meeting in January. In fact it was later discovered that some of the material to which they objected, and which had been shared on social media as excerpts from Eleanor & Park, was actually from online fan fiction inspired by the novel. This would have been one very good reason to form a reconsideration committee that would actually read the book as outlined in district policy, but instead board members voted to pull it from English teacher Tony Vala-Haynes’ classroom on the spot.

After receiving criticism from community members and from district superintendent Charan Cline, who said the ban “caused a shockwave among our teaching staff,” the board last week apologized and agreed to follow the reconsideration policy. Vice-chairman Tim Pfeifer said he personally would still prefer for Eleanor and Park to be banned, but admitted that “I kind of stepped out of the weeds and went up to my knees. I decided I didn’t want the book in the classroom and kind of narrowed my vision.”

According to local news station KATU, many supporters of Eleanor & Park and intellectual freedom were at the most recent meeting to ensure that the board corrected its initial mistake. Several of the parents who lodged the informal complaint last month were also in attendance; one of them, Joe Padberg, pushed back against the argument that the content of the novel is no more extreme than what students at this age encounter in daily life:

They say that kids have heard this on the bus. My kids don’t ride the bus. We pay attention to what they do and this is not their life.

Fortunately for Padberg, the Reconsideration Request form that should have been filed before any action was taken includes the option to have the book withheld only from his own children. Here’s hoping for a quick resolution of the challenge to satisfy all parties involved!

This is not the first time Eleanor & Park has been challenged in schools. Last year it was one of three books from recommended summer reading lists that raised controversy among parents in Chesterfield County, Virginia, but a review committee ultimately voted to retain all three on library shelves. In 2013, a parent pressure group led to Rowell being disinvited from speaking at the Anoka County Library in Minnesota, a visit that was to be jointly sponsored by the Anoka-Hennepin School District. Shortly thereafter, the author sat down with CBLDF for an interview about her experience and reaction to being censored.

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