In response to our Exclusive Report on Monday, the New Rochelle Board of Education announced today that it would immediately replace all 50 copies of Susanna Kaysen’s memoir Girl, Interrupted which were distributed to students at New Rochelle High School two weeks ago and undertake a review of district policy and practices regarding book selection. No mention was made of the district’s “book challenge” policy which is at the heart of the Girl, Interrupted controversy.
Talk of the Sound was first to reveal that New Rochelle school officials had improperly removed pages from a book deemed “inappropriate” by the head of the English department at New Rochelle High School.
“The material was of a sexual nature that we deemed inappropriate for teachers to present to their students,” said English Department Chariperson Leslie Altschul, “since the book has other redeeming features, we took the liberty of bowdlerizing.”
The move was widely criticized. Both the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression expressed their alarm at the actions of the school district. The story was a hot topic across the blogosphere, transcending political ideology. It was featured on the left-leaning Boing Boing, the most widely read blog in the world, as well as the top conservative site, Hot Air which is owned by Michelle Malkin of Fox News. The New Yorker magazine and The Atlantic Monthly also picked up the story as well as dozens of blog sites focused on literary and free speech issues.
New Rochelle residents weighed in on the Talk of the Sound Comment Board where one recently-arrived New Rochelle resident expressed misgivings about having moved to New Rochelle at all
“After reading about the actions of Ms. Deutsch, who in my opinion is a fascist, my wife and I are seriously thinking about relocating to Scarsdale,” he said. “We love it here, but to think that she was elected to her current position by the people of this community, is quite frankly disturbing and utterly shameful.”
Long-time resident Brian Donnelly wrote “For a city that prides itself as the home of Thomas Paine, to treat such basic things in this manner is simply a disgrace and a petty display of two-bit power.”
In a separate statement, Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak sought to minimize the significance of “minor” changes to the book and the impact of the school teaching from what he called “slightly expurgated version” of the novel.
“The original decision to excise the pages was made at the building level,” said Richard Organisciak. The decision “would not have been reviewed either by the central administration or by the Board of Education.”
According to the National Coalition Against Censorship, school districts typically require that book challenges must be made in a public hearing held at the board level so the purpose and agenda of the complainants can be evaluated by members of the community. Organisciak has refused repeated requests to provide a copy of the District’s “book challenge” policy or explain it.
Organisciak attempted to shift the focus away from the issue at hand – the “book challenge” process or lack thereof – and instead fell back on the uncontroversial assertion that not all books are appropriate for all ages, a point disputed by precisely no one, anywhere.