The book had been only been available in the library and was not on any middle school curriculum in West Ada, which is why district spokesperson Eric Exline feels this is dissimilar from previous attempts at censorship within the school district. “A library book is a book students choose to select, that kind of puts it in a different circumstance.”
According to Exline, a parent complained to the district about mentions of smoking, use of bad language, and references to suicide in the book. The district, in turn, formed a committee that did not meet its own standards of review and then determined that every middle school in the district should pull the book and send the copies to their respective high schools. This disregarded the district’s own policies on several levels.
The committee was comprised of the school district’s librarian, curriculum director, language curriculum coordinator, and assistant superintendent – it did not contain any parents, and the policy indicates that five parents should be included on any reconsideration committee for a library resource. The policy itself also sets out “guiding principals” so that when challenges do arise, the administration keeps important educational tenets in mind while handling the situation.
One of the guiding principles states, “when supplemental learning resources are challenged, freedom to read/listen/view must be considered.” Another asserts that “no parent has the right to determine reading, viewing, or listening matter for students other than his or her own children.” By forming a panel without heeding their own procedure of including parents, they took away the First Amendment rights of the other students and parents in the school district to make an informed decision for themselves. The policy is in place so that a cross-section of parents can discuss the text and voice their opinions, hopefully forming an accurate representation of the district itself. Instead, the administration allowed one parent’s voice to silence that of every other person in West Ada school district.
Exline points to the author saying in an interview that the book was “intended for high schoolers” as part of the proof that it was inappropriate at the middle school level. The actual text of the interview:
[Interviewer] Did you write it with a specific audience in mind?
[Green] Yes. From the very beginning, I wrote the book for high-school students.
Green did not say it was inappropriate for anyone other than high school students. Regularly there are adult books taught in schools because their value educationally makes them strong tools for educators and resources for students. Their authors did not envision students reading them when they set out to write them, but there is little chance that any author would lend their voice to the censorship of their own work. The claim from the district that Green said the work was intended for older students is a flimsy excuse to cover up their lack of thoughtful review and disregard for the district policy.
An online petition has already been started to reinstate Looking for Alaska to the library shelves. Hopefully, the community’s engagement will show the district that they can’t make imperious rulings without repercussions.