September 19, 2012 Board of School Directors East Penn School District 800 Pine Street Emmaus, PA 18049

Dear Members of the Board of School Directors, We read with interest recent news reports regarding complaints over two titles on the East Penn summer reading lists. As representatives of organizations concerned with the freedom to read, we are writing to offer support of your district’s policies regarding material adoption and reconsideration as well as for the education professionals who compiled these lists. It is our understanding that these lists are quite long and that students have dozens of titles from which to choose their summer reading book. Furthermore, the reading lists clearly advise parents that some books may be better suited to more mature readers and provides content descriptions of each book on the list. Parents who object to particular titles—in this case Prep by Curtiss Sittenfeld (Random House) and Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (Bantam)— can easily direct their child to alternative texts. We understand that both titles have already undergone challenge in your district, and the reconsideration committee already voted to retain them. It is hard to imagine any legitimate reason for the books to be removed from the optional reading list. To date, no formal challenge has been filed, and no review conducted, as district policy requires. In addition, the objections that have been voiced do not address the literary or educational value of the works as a whole, but focus on certain words and passages the complainants find objectionable because of sexual content. However, if students were precluded from reading literature because of sexual content, they would be deprived of exposure to vast amounts of important material, including Shakespeare, major religious texts including the Bible, the works of Tolstoy, Flaubert, Joyce, Faulkner, D.H. Lawrence, Nabokov, Morrison, and countless others. As these examples suggest, any attempt “to eliminate everything that is objectionable...will leave public schools in shreds. Nothing but educational confusion and a discrediting of the public school system can result....” McCollum v. Board of Educ. (1948) (Jackson, J. concurring). The Supreme Court has cautioned that school officials “may not remove books from library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’” Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 872 (1982)(plurality opinion). Any attempt to remove books because of objections to their content, rather than a review of the educational
The Kids’ Right to Read Project is a joint effort of The National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, with the support of the Association of American Publishers and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

and literary merits of the works taken as a whole, would raise serious constitutional concerns. These concerns are as valid for books on a summer reading list as they are for core texts in a district’s curriculum. Those who object to this book are entitled to their view, but they may not impose it on others. Any other decision threatens the principle that is essential to individual freedom, democracy, and a good education: the right to read, inquire, question, and think for ourselves. If we can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us. Sincerely,

Joan Bertin Executive Director National Coalition Against Censorship Bertin@ncac.org

Chris Finan President American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression chris@abffe.org

Charles Brownstein Executive Director Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Charles.brownstein@cbldf.org

Judith Platt Director, Free Expression Advocacy Association of American Publishers jplatt@publishers.org

Florrie Kichler President The Independent Book Publishers Association florrie@ibpa-online.org

Larry Siems Director, Freedom to Write & International Programs PEN American Center lsiems@pen.org

Millie Davis Senior Developer, Affiliate Groups and Public Outreach National Council of Teachers of English mdavis@ncte.org

cc: Dr. Seidenberger, Superintendent, East Penn School District Nicole Bloise, Community Liason, East Penn School District

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