NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A parent’s outcry regarding a read about racism will be heard by the New Hanover County board of education next month, marking the first hearing on a book challenge in the district.
New Hanover County schools has set a date, Sept. 1, for the hearing on “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You,” written by children’s author Jason Reynolds as a “remix” of antiracist author Ibram X. Kendi’s book “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.”
The book was included in last school year’s A.P. Language and Composition course at Ashley High School. In December, parent Katie Gates condemned the class’ inclusion of the book, which presents a history of racist ideas in the United States. Kendi and Reynolds argue racist ideas have been utilized throughout the nation’s history to uphold systems of power that are still affecting people today.
Despite Gates’ daughter being given a different assignment and the class being now over, the parent has pushed for the book to be removed from NHCS curriculum and libraries. Her challenge was denied once by Ashley’s media review committee and then again by district staff when Gates appealed the decision. Per Gates’ second appeal, the decision now lies with the school board.
According to a letter from NHCS legal counsel Jonathan Vogel, Gates and NHCS Assistant Superintendent for Technology and Digital Learning Dawn Brinson, who will serve as representative for the district, will each have 20 minutes to state their case. Gates may preserve a portion of her time to rebut NHCS’ argument. The parties will also be able to submit written statements and documents to the school board.
Vogel stated Gates has the right to have representative present on her behalf at the hearing and must notify him by Aug. 18 if she wishes this to be the case. If she chooses legal representation, NHCS will have the opportunity to be represented as well, albeit not by Vogel.
After both sides have presented, the board will be able to ask questions of both parties.
According to Vogel’s letter, the board will need to decide whether Gates’ challenge to “Stamped” has merit and whether the book should be “retained, removed
from the New Hanover County Schools entirely, whether it should be removed to another school level, or whether its availability should be restricted.”
The decision will need to be made in accordance with policies 2500 (hearings before the board), 3210 (parental inspection of and objection to instructional materials), and
reconsideration procedures for instructional materials.
Also at play are legal standards; Vogel specifically cites Board of Education v. Pico, presumably referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1982 decision in Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico.
It concluded that books can be removed from school libraries for legitimate reasons that have to do with the children’s welfare and education. They may not be removed for political reasons, as the First Amendment protects against the government’s discrimination of ideas.
The case also ruled school district’s must have a process in place to review challenged material and that school board’s had the ultimate authority of removing such material.
In his letter, Vogel advises Gates and Brinson to focus their arguments on whether the book is “educationally unsuitable, pervasively vulgar, or inappropriate to the age, maturity, or grade level of the students,” per legal standard.
The hearing will take place on Friday, Sept. 1, at 9 a.m. in the Board of Education Center, 1805 S. 13th St and will be open to the public.
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