MCS bans four books, restricts several more in contentious hearing

CARTHAGE – The Moore County Schools Board of Education considered recommendations from the District Media and Technology Advisory Committees reviews in regards to nine books that were challenged, at the Jan. 16 board meeting.

The challenged books were:

  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • Crank by Ellen Hopkins
  • City of Heavenly Fire: The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare

The board agreed with committee recommendations on three books, which will see The Kite Runner limited to grades 9 to 12; Thirteen Reasons Why will be freely available in grades 9 to 12 but require parental approval to be checked out by middle schoolers; and Speak will be limited to grades 8 to 12.

The board went against committee recommendations on The Bluest Eye, Eleanor and ParkLooking for Alaska and Crank, deciding to remove all four books entirely.

“This is a very moral and ethical dilemma,” said board member Pauline Bruno in a discussion about The Bluest Eye. “I have thought long and hard about this and I have spoken with God over and over. This is a choice between disagreeable alternatives. The first time I went through and read these books, I thought, they’re all okay. But you know what? Our adolescents are not fools. They know what’s going on in the world, but a lot of them are looking for sensation. A lot of these books disregard human dignity and I have to do what I have to do.”

Committee’s recommendations were also bypassed on The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, with the board voting to limit the book to grades 9 to 12 and to middle schoolers with parental approval.

Board member Stacey Caldwell either abstained or voted against the removal of all nine books, while board member David Hensley abstained from every vote, making a strong statement about the inappropriateness of the original challenges to the books.

“I’ve opposed this strictly based on procedural grounds,” Hensley explained. “The reason why I’m opposed to this is two-fold. First of all, the challenge came from a board member and the role of a board member if you look at the North Carolina general statute, is to be the ultimate independent adjudicator of book challenges, not the initiators.”

Noting that board members are meant to be impartial, he continued, criticizing a policy of board Chair Robert Levy that requires school board members to challenge books rather than citizens.

“By North Carolina general statute, any one of them could have stepped up and challenged these offending books,” Hensley said, rather than a school board member needing to do it.

“Chair Levy several times took that right away,” Hensley went on. “He proposed and developed the policy to take that right from citizens and he’s bragged on that several times in open session.”

Levy defended himself, noting that book challenges are expensive and opening them up to anyone could become very costly. Instead, he explained, the public can petition individual school board members to have a book challenged.

“These book proposals cost us a lot of money to do and if we were to open it up to every citizen of Moore County, multiply what we did, and I believe it was thousands of dollars to evaluate these books, by a hundred thousand people all possibly coming in and challenging books,” Levy responded. “People can challenge books, it’s in the statute. In order to take care of the problem between the extreme costs of this and the rights of all the citizens, all someone has to do is get one member of the board to make the challenge.” He noted that the proposal of alternatives to his policy were welcome.

In other matters, after mediation, NCDOT agreed to pay MCS $415,000 in compensation for property taken in front of West End Elementary School; and Elise Middle School was approved to apply for Restart School status.

The Moore County Schools Board of Education will next meet Feb. 12.

By North State Journal Staff

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