Duke legal clinic inserted itself into Moore Schools book controversy

RALEIGH — A June 10 letter reveals that Duke University Law School’s First Amendment Clinic inserted itself into the ongoing fight over alleged obscene books found in Moore County Public Schools. 

The letter was addressed to Moore County Board of Education Chair Pam Thompson along with the rest of the board members and was signed by Benjamin Rossi and Sarah Ludington of Duke Law’s First Amendment Clinic (DLFAC). 

In their letter, DLFAC takes aim at two books successfully removed “Life is Funny” by E.R. Frank and “Looking for Alaska” by John Green. DLFAC’s letter claims the “removal and banning of these two books violate the Board’s own policies, North Carolina law, and the First Amendment,” and requests “that in future, all Moore County Schools staff follow the prescribed procedures for challenging library books.” 

The letter goes on to claim the two books were improperly removed based on the “personal beliefs” of Pinecrest Principal Stefanie Phillips and one board member Philip Holmes, citing that Phillips had characterized the removal of the book “Life is Funny” as being due to “pervasive vulgarity.”

“In light of the foregoing, we request that in the future, all Moore County Schools staff rigorously follow the Board’s 5410R procedures, and that all decisions concerning challenges to school library books be in harmony with the First Amendment,” the DLFAC letter reads in closing. “Furthermore, we ask that the Moore County Schools clarify the status—available or unavailable, under review for removal or not—of “Life is Funny,” “Looking for Alaska,” and any other resources challenged by Board members.”

Sources inside Moore County Public Schools indicated that the school board members discussed the DLFAC letter in a closed session on June 6, even though the topic does not appear on the published agenda. While the content of that discussion is unknown, North State Journal was told that the district’s new superintendent Tim Locklair has attempted to “unilaterally rewrite” district policy to only allow challenges to books to be made by parents or guardians of current Moore County students.

As of mid-July, the two books remain off the shelves in Moore County Schools.

By A.P. Dillon

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