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KRRP Letter to Sarasota County Schools

KRRP Letter to Sarasota County Schools

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Published by ncacensorship
KRRP Letter to Sarasota County Schools in Defense of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
KRRP Letter to Sarasota County Schools in Defense of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Published by: ncacensorship on Aug 02, 2013
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Kids’ Right to Read Project

A project of the National Coalition Against Censorship

American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression Association of American Publishers Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Lori White, Superintendent Reconsideration Committee Members Sarasota County Schools 1960 Landings Blvd. Sarasota, FL 34231 August 1, 2013

Dear Ms. White and District Committee Members, It has come to our attention that the Sarasota County School district is currently responding to a challenge to the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. We understand that a parent objected to the book because of language and sexual content and is appealing the decision of the reconsideration committee to retain the book. We urge you to follow the recommendation of that committee and keep Speak in middle school classrooms in Sarasota. Speak is a stunning story about teenage outcasts of our society who often fall through the cracks. A New York Times bestseller, it has received wide acclaim, including as a National Book Award Finalist. The book is an account of one girl’s struggles in her first year of high school after she is date-raped at a party. The book resonates with middle and high school students in particular because it presents issues that confront many adolescents – fitting in, relating to parents, being yourself – in a realistic and relatable way and because it presents a powerful treatment of sexual assault. Melinda, the protagonist of Speak, is model of strength and perseverance for students undergoing trials big and small. The language and situations in this work, as in any text under study, must be seen in the context of the entire work. The ethical and literary value of a work is distorted if one focuses only on particular words, passages, or segments. An author’s broad moral vision, total treatment of theme, and commitment to realistic portrayal of characters and dialogue are ignored when protesters focus only on aspects that are offensive to them. While there is shock value in isolating and listing selected passages from a book, this does not reveal anything about the fundamental message or theme in a work nor provide insight into its educational and literary qualities, which must be the focus of school officials responding to such challenges. Unfortunately, many young people experience sexual assault or know someone who has. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in ten girls in grade 9-12 reported that they had been raped. Of women who had been raped, in almost half of cases the incident occurred before they turned 181. Students will hopefully learn about such issues in health class. But literature also holds a unique place in helping young people understand these issues, which are realities for too many. Books like Speak can provide a safe space to explore difficult subjects and develop empathy for others with the guidance of a trusted adult. As the reconsideration committee at Laurel Nokomis Middle School concluded:

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“It provides our students with a guided, approach to think about some of the choices that will face many of them within ten weeks of 8th grade graduation, as they move into high school and are socializing with much older, more mature high school students.” Reading books like Speak contributes directly to the district’s vision of enabling “all learners to lead productive, responsible, and healthful lives.” While parents are free to request an alternative assignment for their children, they have no right to impose their views on others. Curricular choices are uniquely within the discretion of local school authorities so long as they are based on legitimate educational grounds. Brown v. Hot, Sexy and Safer Productions, Inc. 68 F.3d 525, 534 (1st Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1159 (1996) . Thus, courts have held that a parent has no right “to tell a public school what his or her child will and will not be taught,” Leebaert v. Harrington, 332 F.3d 134, 141 (2d Cir. 2003), or “to direct how a public school teaches their child.” Blau v. Fort Thomas Public School District, et al, 401 F.3d 381, 395 (6th Cir. 2005). See also Parker v. Hurley, 514 F. 3d 87, 102 (1st Cir., 2008). Any other rule would force schools to “cater a curriculum for each student whose parents had genuine moral disagreements with the school’s choice of subject matter,” id., resulting in an unacceptably high burden on educators and in the process infringing the rights of the many students who are eager for a more inclusive and expansive education: “[A] student’s First Amendment rights are infringed when books that have been determined by the school district to have legitimate educational value are removed from a mandatory reading list because of threats of damages, lawsuits, or other forms of retaliation.” Monteiro v. Tempe Union High Sch. Dist., 158 F.3d 1022, 1028 (9th Cir. 1998.) Literature helps prepare students for the future by providing opportunities to explore issues they may encounter in life. A good education depends on protecting the right to read, inquire, question and think for ourselves. We strongly urge you to keep Speak in classrooms in Sarasota. If we can be of any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us. Sincerely,

Joan Bertin Executive Director National Coalition Against Censorship

Chris Finan President American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression

Charles Brownstein Executive Director Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Judy Platt Director, Free Expression Advocacy Association of American Publishers

Cc: Sue Meckler, Interim Director, Curriculum and Instruction Gary Letherman, Director, Communications
1 CDC Sexual Violence: Facts at a Glance, 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/sv-datasheet-a.pdf

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