Colorado School Board Backs Superintendent’s Ban on Teen Romance Novel

Perfect ChemistryA young adult romance novel has been removed from the library of Challenger Middle School in Colorado Springs, Colorado, after Academy District 20’s superintendent and school board overruled a review committee’s unanimous recommendation to keep it on shelves. In voting to affirm Superintendent Mark Hatchell’s ban of Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles from the school, board members ignored a 92-page appeal submitted by district librarians.

Perfect Chemistry is an interethnic love story between high school students and chemistry lab partners Alex Fuentes, a Latino gang member, and Brittany Ellis, described in one review as “her Chicago high school’s ‘golden girl.’” Naturally the romance novel includes some steamy scenes, but numerous reviews from teens as well as professional reviewers also praise it for breaking down stereotypes and roping in even reluctant readers. Elkeles’ website for the book includes a list of readers’ choice awards and effusive testimonials from English teachers and students describing its magnetic power for those who thought they didn’t enjoy reading.

Reviewers generally recommend Perfect Chemistry for around age 14 and up–a range that even District 20 spokesperson Allison Cortez admits would include some Challenger Middle School students. Nevertheless, Cortez told local news station KOAA how employees in the superintendent’s office decided the book needed to go:

We literally marked it up and we tabbed pages, just like what you would do in a class, we tabbed pages where there was that excessive language, violence and sexual in nature [sic] so that you could kind of see how much ran throughout the book.

Unfortunately, the ban by the superintendent and school board is technically in line with the district’s challenge policy, which provides for an appeal process from the initial review committee step but terminates at the school board level. But it seems unlikely that board members and Superintendent Hatchell objectively measured the book against the guidelines for selection of library materials, including that they “shall realistically represent our pluralistic society” and “shall be selected for their strengths rather than rejected for their weaknesses.”

Challenger Middle School librarian Gina Schaarschmidt, speaking on behalf of the librarians who appealed Hatchell’s ban before the school board last week, warned that removing the book could open the floodgates to more challenges and threaten “the freedom to read and the freedom for access to books.” Although their appeal was rejected, Elkeles gratefully acknowledged their effort on Twitter last week, sending “LOVE to all the librarians in #coloradosprings-they support Perfect Chemistry which breaks DOWN stereotypes so people RESPECT others!”

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