Over the last few days I’ve been reeling over the news that a South Carolina district pulled one of our South Carolina Association of School Librarians’ Young Adult Book Award Nominees after one parent complained that 24 pages in he was put out by the use of expletives throughout the story along with other concerns. That book is Chris Crutcher’s Angry Management.
Step One: Formal Written Complaint
I suppose there was a formal challenge leveled against the book with this district, as it was pulled from all middle and high schools that had it on the shelves there. In searching school news, board meeting minutes and podcasts throughout the district’s web page, I found no mention of the issue. But on the district’s Facebook page, some crumbs of information were revealed. The only real information I found was a portal to a local newspaper (that was originally seen on author Chris Crutcher’s site) sharing about the book being removed. And that was June 29, 2011–Wednesday a week ago.
The next steps in a typical challenge…
Now mind you, I have experienced a book challenge before. In 1997, a male 6th grader’s parent complained that the book Fallen Angels written by Walter Dean Myers was inappropriate for our middle school. As was the policy then, my principal took steps to get a formal complaint form to the parent via certified mail, contact our district office to pull together a review committee comprised of me as media specialist, the parent questioning the book, my principal, representation from the district office (if memory serves it was the director of secondary education and a reading coach), as well as an unbiased community member. This took approximately two weeks, as first the parent had to file the complaint, and then the committee had to be pulled together and provided a copy of the book to read. Since the committee was to be a diverse representation, it took a couple of days to get that group organized. They then had to have a few days to read the book, and finally reconvene to discuss the merits of the book in question. Hopefully you can see why it was a two week process. I suppose it could be rushed and completed within ten days, maybe even seven if it is done to preserve the integrity of the board policy on challenging a book. The decision for our challenge was that 6th graders could only check it out with parental permission, a compromise.
Let’s look at a timeline
So back to this challenge of Angry Management. Let’s look at the timeline, and please note these are dates based on the information I could obtain:
- Sometime prior to June 23, 2011 – The parent reads a summer reading title selected by the child (from a list of forty titles.) Initial details say only 24 pages were read, followed by randomly selected pages after that.
- June 23, 2011, 6:11 AM- The parent visits the school district’s Facebook Page early in the morning before the district office is even open to comment on an unrelated post to complain about the book his son was reading. The comment was made on the Facebook wall under a posting about the podcast from the June 8, 2011 board meeting being available.
- June 23, 2011, 8:51AM- In that same Facebook post, a representative from the district comments back outlining the process for challenging a book, including how a committee had to be pulled together after the parent completed a selection challenge form. The representative also refers to how the school media specialists have already made a recommendation for alternate titles for this parent’s 14 year old son.
- June 23, 2011 – The same parent continues to complain about the book in the Facebook comments.
- June 27, 2011, 10:23 PM – The parent revisits the same thread of comments with this comment. I would paraphrase but I dont think I can do it justice:
Thanks…(leaving out the two names mentioned here)… for meeting with me, the book is now off the shelves and now we fix the broke system that allowed it to get there. There are other folks that now need to answer some questions, it would help if they would self indentify and leave a message on my page, the folks that were on the panel for Summer reading books.
Now my questions:
- Could this really have been initiated and wrapped up over a long weekend? Essentially that is the case, as it began Thursday morning, June 23, and ended Monday PM, June 27 with the removal of the title. Has a system caved to a parent who used a social networking forum to air concerns that might have been better addressed in person or over the phone? With the short timeline, I struggle to believe it could possibly be handled that quickly.
- Is there a record of a meeting where the committee charged with reviewing the book met, who was involved, and what the final outcome was? Save for his “thanks” above, and a newspaper article a few days later, there is none that I can find. Was the integrity of the policy maintained with what feels like a speedy trial?
We the people…
For the district’s sake, I certainly hope the policy set by the board was followed. If not, I expect this parent to do more inspection of library books and any other use of district money in the name of protecting his child. His parting thanks implies with his recent success he is on a head hunt, and does not trust the school professionals in the district to make selections. He was able to get his way with this effort, so I’m thinking there will be more. This all from a parent who happens to use a picture of the constitution as a profile pic on Facebook–how ironic.
Links of Interest:
The district’s Facebook page (look at the posting and comments by June 8, 2011)