KCTV5 investigates Book Banning: Parents vs. Public Schools - KCTV5 News

KCTV5 investigates Book Banning: Parents vs. Public Schools

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For decades, parents and school districts have debated what books are appropriate for a school library collection and what books should be banned.

The issue is coming up again in the Blue Springs School District in the wake of some parents objecting to their child reading a book they say is riddled with obscenities. The book was pulled last month from a school library as the district reconsiders whether it is appropriate for student reading.

But now the ACLU is threatening to get involved if the school district caves in to pressure from parents.

The controversy began when Stephen and Christina Brown learned their 14-year-old daughter had just finished reading the novel, Hold Still, which is about a young girl coping with the suicide of her best friend. The book, according to the parents, was read as part of an extra credit assignment in a freshman English class.

Christina Brown said the book is riddled with "F yous." She said the book is "extremely inappropriate" for public school because it describes explicit sexual relationships.

"The first word was the ‘F word,' right there in front of me, and I about lost my breath. I couldn't believe it, I really couldn't," her husband Stephen Brown said. "I just didn't expect it in a book from the school library."

About six weeks ago, the upset parents complained to the principal at the Blue Springs Freshman Center about the book being vulgar and obscene. They asked for the book to be banned from district reading lists.

"I felt like we did the right thing by going to the principal first and not overreacting. But I haven't heard back since. But you know, I don't know what that means," Stephen Brown said.

KCTV5 contacted Blue Springs School District officials about the Browns' concern. The district said in an email that Hold Still "has been removed from the library and classrooms" pending a review by a group of teachers and instructional staff members.

In addition to the Browns, the ACLU is also closely following the school's reaction.

"You clearly can't remove a book because you disagree with the ideas in them," said Doug Bonney, chief counsel and legal director for the local chapter of the ACLU. "Clearly, I'm concerned when a school removes a book that was chosen by the professional library staff for inclusion in the collection and then on the complaint of one family decides to remove the book while it's being reviewed."

The problem is where do you stop, Bonney said. He fears removing the book violates the students' First Amendment Rights.

"Once you start to remove books because some group disagrees with the ideas, then there's no stopping," Bonney explained.

The Blue Springs School District's official policy is that parents can object to curriculum materials and file a formal written request for the removal of books or other items. Hold Still was removed despite the Browns only making a verbal complaint.

"I am concerned that the district seems to have not followed its own internal policy," Bonney said. "If in fact, the school is trying to sweep this under the rug, that's a mistake."

Refusing to wait and see what the school district does, the Browns decided to consult their pastor, Hylton Lawrence, at Lighthouse Independent Baptist Church in Independence.

"I'm not for banning, going to the library and say, ‘Let's ban every book there.' I'm saying we need to have oversight. These are young people, they are not adults. They are children, and so we need some oversight," Lawrence said.

The Browns and their pastor have reviewed the 15 books on the extra credit reading list and think at least nine are inappropriate and should be pulled.

"Are you aware of the vulgarity? Are you aware of the acts of sex, incest and homosexuality? All of these. Are you aware of these?" Lawrence said.

Lawrence said he believes it is "my job to be a watchdog and help" determine what are appropriate and inappropriate books.

But Bonney says that is not acceptable for three people to pressure a school district in such a manner.

"That's not right. It's inappropriate. Censorship is contrary to the First Amendment," Bonney said.

But the Browns and Lawrence say this is about a public school system providing a good education and teaching moral stands, explaining that certain language and ideas are not suitable for the classroom.

"I'm afraid some of the things in those books is taking away from that," the pastor said.

Public schools should work with parents, not make their lives more difficult, Stephen Brown said.

"I'm all for free speech until it impedes on my right as a parent," Stephen Brown said. "And I have to step in and say, ‘Time out,' that doesn't work."

While parents have the right to guide their child's education, Bonney and the ALCU contend that parents don't have the right to impose their views on everyone else in the community.

We will let you know what the Blue Springs School District decides about Hold Still and whether this issue ends up in court.

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