NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A book used in an AP class at an area high school could be removed from New Hanover County Schools’ library shelves following an appeal to the board of education.
A lot of energy has been spent on scrutinizing “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” since December. Written by children’s fiction author Jason Reynolds, it’s based on the work of Ibram X. Kendi, a professor and anti-racism activist.
Parent Katie Gates petitioned Ashley High School to remove the book on Dec. 13; at a board meeting the following month she claimed the book “contains Marxist ideology, inaccurate reframing of history, untruths, and disrespect for our nation and the Bible.”
The book outs itself as “not a history book” but rather analyzes the root and present understanding of racist ideas. One of those ideas, often referred to as the curse of Ham theory, was dispensed by Christian slaveholders to justify owning slaves; the discussion of the theory in the book was disparaged by Gates at the January meeting.
The book argues that the U.S. Constitution endorses slavery, explores some of the myths spread about the causes of the Civil War, and how the practice of redlining segregated cities across the country.
An alternative assignment was offered to Gate’s child, yet the parent continued to push to ban the book for all students. Ashley’s media advisory committee overruled the complaint; it then went to the district, where it was shot down again.
On Tuesday, the school board was tasked with deciding to hear the appeal. In a 4-3 vote, it decided to do so, with board members Pete Wildeboer, Pat Bradford, Melissa Mason and Josie Barnhart in favor.
“There were things I definitely disagreed with, there were things I had issue with, but I’m not basing what I’m saying on this,’ Mason said Tuesday. “And you can believe me or not believe me.”
She stated she had read “Stamped” cover to cover and looked at its purpose in the AP English and Language Composition curriculum. In the course, students are supposed to learn about the elements of argument and composition to develop critical reading and writing skills, according to The College Board.
Mason said she was concerned the book was not rigorous enough, compared with other AP classes syllabi she studied, which included titles from Malcom X and George Orwell, the latter who has written against the perils of censorship. Barnhart questioned the age-appropriateness as well, claiming to have gotten her copy of the book from Castle Hayne Elementary.
“I have concerns about how we’re building the selection process in general, if indeed this is [in] a college level course and an elementary-level book,” Barnhart said.
According to Kendi, “Stamped” is intended for ages 12 and up, satisfying calls from readers who wished they had access to the book when they were in middle school.
“There might be some fifth graders who are very interested in this because their families are interested in it and they read it together as a family, so who are we to decide?” board member Stephanie Kraybill questioned in response.
She added it wasn’t in the board’s purview to choose what all students can and can’t read. Legal precedent does seem to support that statement.
Boards of education largely possess the authority to control books taught in school curriculum; however, there are limits to removing books from libraries as determined by the Supreme Court case Island Trees School District v. Pico. The Pico case maintains school districts may remove books for legitimate reasons concerning child welfare and if they have an unibased process in place to do so; however, they cannot censor certain beliefs.
NHCS has a process for parents to prevent their child from reading a book, either by assigning a different book in class or blocking the kid from checking it out from the library.
“Banning books, in my opinion, is an un-American thing to do,” board member Stephanie Walker said during the meeting.
All three dissenting members — Kraybill, Walker and Hugh McManus — stressed the importance of trusting the education system. Kraybill noted she has a problem with capitulating to the views of a small group of people “who think they know more than educators know.”
“Part of what we do everyday is expose kids to everything so they can make good, mature decisions when they get older,” McManus said.
After the board voted to set up a hearing, they argued over whether to allow presentations to be made by both parties, representatives for Gates and the school district. The board members against the hearing pushed for it to be conducted using only the documents previously provided in the last two reviews of the book. However, a vote to hear oral arguments prevailed 4-3.
The board has yet to set a date for the hearing.
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