Stuck in the Middle Challenged in Oklahoma School

stuckinthemiddleAn Oklahoma middle school last week pulled the comic anthology Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an Unpleasant Age off of shelves after one parent called it “trash” and complained of vulgarities, sexual references, and drug use in some of the stories. Although one egregiously biased local news report suggested that the book is permanently banned, an equally biased report from a competing station indicates that Mid-Del School District is following its challenge policy by forming a review committee to decide its fate.

Moreover, local news station KFOR also seems to suggest that all graphic novels may have been pulled from the Del Crest Middle School library in the wake of the challenge. Neither the online library catalog nor the district statement quoted by KOCO news reflect that, however, and CBLDF is seeking clarification on this point. Contrary to best practices, Mid-Del’s challenge policy does say that the challenged item is to be withdrawn from use pending a resolution.

According to Section V of Policy I-16 on Media Selection, challenges to library materials are to be submitted in writing on the included Request for Reconsideration of Educational Media form. The filing of a challenge automatically triggers the formation of a review committee which acts as follows:

After reading the book, a review committee composed of a teacher, LMS [Library Media Specialist], principal, and parent shall meet to discuss the material being reviewed and consider the complainant’s concerns.  The material is reviewed and judged by this committee as to conformity with selection criteria and instructional goals.

The school principal communicates the committee’s decision to the complainant, who then has the option to appeal it to a mid-level district administrator, then the superintendent, and finally the school board. Although two different reports from KFOR imply that Stuck in the Middle was already banned without following this policy, the story from KOCO includes a contradictory quote direct from a district statement: “We do have a district policy in place to review books that are called into question. We are pulling the book to review with a committee….”

Stuck in the Middle was edited by Ariel Schrag and includes contributions from acclaimed graphic novelists Daniel Clowes, Dash Shaw, Gabrielle Bell, Lauren Weinstein, and more. The book received praise from Booklist, New York Times, and Publishers Weekly, and it was selected for New York Public Library’s “Books for the Teen Age” list in 2008. Despite those plaudits it currently has an undeservedly abysmal rating on Amazon, largely due to an alarmist post from a blog called Momma Bears. Shortly after that post went up on March 7, 2014, a rash of one-star reviews from people who likely had not read the entire book appeared on Amazon; several of those were in turn used by KFOR to justify its attack last week.

Stuck in the Middle has previously been challenged in Sioux Falls, SD; Dixfield, ME; and Aransas County, TX. In the first two cases it was ultimately moved to restricted collections accessible by teachers, while in Aransas County it was retained without any restriction. Read more in our Case Study, then check out our Using Graphic Novels in Education column to aid in incorporating the book into curricula!

CBLDF is deeply concerned about the blatant bias and misinformation regarding graphic novels from both news stations reporting on this case. We are still working to clarify the status of other graphic novels in the DCMS library, and we urge Mid-Del Schools’ Board of Education to ensure that the challenge policy is being followed. Watch this space for updates!

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

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