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      October 24, 2012

Pete Koehler Chief Educational Officer Nampa High School 203 Lake Lowell Ave., Nampa, ID 83686

   

Dear Mr. Koehler, We are writing to express our concern over the removal of Laura Esquivel’s novel Like Water For Chocolate (Anchor Books) from English classrooms in Nampa High School in response to parental objections to sexual content in the book. While we appreciate Nampa High School’s sensitivity to parent concerns, there are constitutional implications when a text is removed without an official review of its pedagogical value. The removal of a book because of objections to its content raises serious constitutional concerns. Government officials, including public school administrators, may not prohibit “the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Texas v. Johnson (1989); see also Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico (1982) (“local school boards may not remove books from school libraries 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.’”) Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate is an exemplary text in the magical realism style, adopted by Nampa English teachers to adhere to Idaho Common Core Standards in teaching world literature. The novel follows the trials of Tita as she seeks her own independence within the cultural restrictions and family duties of turn-of-the-century Mexico. It has been singled out as an important commentary on the emergence of Mexican feminism. Publishers Weekly said that “Esquivel does a splendid job of describing the frustration, love and hope expressed through the most domestic and feminine of arts, family cooking, suggesting by implication the limited options available to Mexican women of this period.” It is our understanding that parents were advised about the content of the book and were offered an opportunity to request an alternative assignment or an abridged version of the book. Parents who remained dissatisfied could file an official complaint challenging the use of the book, which would have

   

   

triggered a review of the book’s literary and pedagogical value. That process never took place. The district’s failure to follow these procedures makes it doubly vulnerable to charges that the removal was constitutionally impermissible, since the absence of a review process also reveals that the decision to remove the book was based solely on the complaint about its content, not a professional assessment of its educational merits. Those who object to the book are entitled to their view, but they have no right to have it reflected in school policies and practices. Parents have “no constitutional right to direct how a public school teachers their child.’” Parker v. Hurley, 514 F. 3d 87, 102 (1st Cir., 2008) As many courts have observed, public schools have an obligation to “administer school curricula responsive to the overall educational needs of the community and its children.” Leebaert v. Harrington, 332 F.3d 134, 141 (2d Cir., 2003). No parent has the right “to tell a public school what his or her child will and will not be taught.” Id. Any other rule would put schools in the untenable position of having “to cater a curriculum for each student whose parents had genuine moral disagreements with the school’s choice of subject matter.” Brown v. Hot, Sexy and Safer Productions, Inc., 68 F.#d 525, 534 (1st Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1159 (1996). See also Swanson v. Guthrie Indep. School Dist., 135 F.3d 694, 699 (10th Cir. 1998); Littlefield v. Forney Indep.School, 268 F.3d 275, 291 (5th Cir. 2001). Moreover, the views of parents who object to the book are not shared by all, and banning the book infringes the First Amendment rights of other parents and their children. For your information, we enclose a link to the National Coalition Against Censorship’s Guide to the First Amendment in Schools, and in particular, Section IV, “Roles and Responsibilities in Promoting First Amendment Values at School.” http://www.ncac.org/p.php?id=4261 We also suggest you refer to “The Students Right to Read,” a guideline established by the National Council of Teachers of English, available online here: http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/righttoreadguideline We strongly urge you to reconsider your ban on Like Water for Chocolate. We urge you to stand by the principle that is so essential to individual freedom, democracy, and a good education: the right to read, inquire, question and think for ourselves. If we can be of assistance in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact us. Sincerely,

Joan Bertin Executive Director National Coalition Against Censorship

Charles Brownstein Executive Director Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Chris Finan President American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression

Judith Platt Director, Free Expression Advocacy Association of American Publishers

Cc: Dr. Joshua Jensen, Deputy Superintendent Kim Eimers, Academic Services Officer