Anti-Censorship Groups Call on New Rochelle Schools to Revamp Book Challenge Process

Written By: Robert Cox

The National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Booksellers Foundations for Free Expression expressed their support for the New Rochelle School District’s recent decision to replace copies of Girl, Interrupted after our exclusive report first broke the news that pages had been torn from the best-selling memoir.

We applaud your recent decision to replace censored copies of Susanna Kaysen’s memoir, Girl, Interrupted, with the full text in New Rochelle High School classrooms. We were shocked to learn that teachers at New Rochelle High School had torn out pages 64-70, reportedly based on complaints about sexual content and profanity. We also understand that this action was taken despite the fact that there had been no formal challenge to the book.

Executive Director Joan Bertin of the National Coalition Against Censorship and President Chris Finan of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression issued a joint statement in which they encouraged the district to adopt a formal, open book challenge process.

It is our view that in any controversy about curriculum or library materials, a school district should follow a thorough review process for evaluating challenged materials. Review procedures should be applied on a uniform and non-discriminatory basis, to ensure that educational standards are not compromised. Challenges to instructional materials, no matter who files them, should be initiated only by a written complaint indicating that the complainant has read the entire work and specifically identifying the grounds for objection, as the district’s policy requires. In addition, the review should be based on a professional assessment of the book’s educational value and interest to students and should examine the work as a whole, not as isolated passages or phrases. Such a process is essential to guard against subjective judgments and to ensure that books are only removed for pedagogically sound and legally sufficient reasons. Books should never be removed unless complaint procedures are followed and never prior to the completion of the review process.

Full text of the NCAC/ABFFE letter to New Rochelle School District