Education

Did Biloxi follow its own policy when pulling ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’?

The Biloxi School District’s policy on how to reconsider a book being taught in class clearly states: “No parent has the right to determine the reading matter for students other than his or her own children.”

But it appears that the school system pulled “To Kill A Mockingbird” last week from the eighth grade lesson plan based on complaints of as few as two parents, according to a report the Sun Herald received. That same report said it was because of the use of a racially-charged word.

The schools’ decision kicked up a storm of reaction nationwide about censorship, what art is designed to do and what consideration needs to be given for racially offensive words in literature.

School Board member Kenny Holloway told the Sun Herald last week it was an administrative and English Department decision.

“To Kill A Mockingbird” was pulled after the course began, because “there were complaints about it,” Holloway said. “There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable, and we can teach the same lesson with other books.”

It was ultimately an administrative decision, he said, but the book is still available in the library. He said there was a meeting on the issue. The school board did not vote on it, but that’s not a requirement under the school’s policy.

Superintendent Arthur McMillan said there are many resources and materials available to teach state academic standards and these resources may change periodically.

Policy sets up a review committee

The policy is clear that a student or parent has the right to reject reading materials that seem incompatible with their values and beliefs.

But it also sets out an equitable solution — find alternate material for the student involved with the complaint, as long as it’s available, equivalent and meets the academic requirements of the course.

If a principal can’t satisfy the complaint, the policy requires a review committee, and no administrator, librarian or teacher should pull teaching material without referring to the committee.

The school district is not saying what replacement it chose for “To Kill A Mockingbird,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel set in the 1930s, that deals with rape and racial inequality in a small Southern town.

The events and characters are loosely based on author Harper Lee’s observations of an event that happened near her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, in the 1930s, when when she was about 10.

A retired teacher told the Sun Herald it is often used in the junior high or middle school level because the story is told from a young person’s perspective.

More challenges coming

The National Coalition Against Censorship is crafting a letter to Biloxi schools challenging the action.

“This is unfortunately not new. It’s something we’ve been seeing, books removed without formal review, just because it makes a parent uncomfortable,” said Abena Hutchful, with the coalition.

“They (Biloxi schools) have a policy. It’s a good thing they had it,” she said. “There’s some violation we can point to.

She said the organization plans to send a letter late Monday or Tuesday.

Hutchful expects the following partners to sign on to the letter: Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Association of American Publishers, National Council of Teachers of English, Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators, Authors Guild, and the American Booksellers for Free Expression.

RECONSIDERATION OF INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS (Section I FAB)

A student or his/her parent has the right to reject the use of library media center materials which seem incompatible with his/her values and beliefs. Classroom assignments involving library media center materials should provide for alternate choices. However, no parent has the right to determine the reading matter for students other than his/her own children. In addition, in elective courses taken at the student’s option, the student’s right to request alternate choices of reading material will be accommodated based on the availability of equivalent resources weighted against the academic requirements of the course.

Any parent who wishes to request reconsideration of the use of any library media center materials in the school must make his/her request in writing on forms provided through the building principal. The completed form is to be returned to the principal. If the principal is unable to satisfy the complainant during an informal conference, he/she should refer the matter to a Review Committee.

No administrator, library media specialist, or teacher should agree to withdraw an item without referring it to a Review Committee which determines whether the material should be withdrawn from any or all schools.

This Review Committee shall be appointed as needed, with recommendations for its membership being made by the Director of Administrative Services and approved by the Superintendent.

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