Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Bradley Cox, Superintendent bcox@ecusd.info Charles W. Brown, Jr., President cbrown@ecusd.info Gail Young, Vice-President gyoung@ecusd.info Tammy Tegeler, Secretary ttegeler@ecusd.info

Joe Weaver, Member jweaver@ecusd.info Mike Heun, Member mheun@ecusd.info Rhonda Pannier, Member rpannier@ecusd.info

Dear Superintendent and Members of the School Board,

We understand that The Family Book, by Todd Parr (Little, Brown and Company) was recently removed from your school’s diversity, tolerance and bullying curriculum in response to religious and ideological objections to its content, specifically a page which reads “some families have two moms or two dads.” These objections provide no legal basis for removing the book, and the decision to do so has serious constitutional implications. The Family Book is designed to introduce young children (prekindergarten to grade 2) to the different types of families in the world, and in their own community. According to School Library Journal, “this concept book celebrating the diversity of family groups is distinguished by its sense of fun.” Publishers Weekly celebrated “the book's simple statements of tolerance and love.” The school’s Materials Selection and Reconsideration Policy Committees properly found that the book is “consistent with the ten criteria” in the selection policy and recommended that the book be retained. Though it is not legally required, parents who object to the book have been offered an alternative assignment for their children. We understand that the removal of The Family Book is part of a larger move to ban all books and materials associated with the “Ready, Set, Respect” resource guide for elementary school educators, which was created by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in

partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). This, too, would be educationally unjustifiable and constitutionally suspect. 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 …”) In this case, the objection to the books is based solely on “dislike [for] the ideas contained” in it. While individuals are entitled to their own views, public school officials cannot remove material without a sound pedagogical basis for their decision. In the case of The Family Book, those vested with the responsibility of upholding the educational objectives of the school – the curriculum review committee – had their professional recommendation flatly ignored. Instead, lay public officials rejected these materials without providing any pedagogical basis for their veto. Parents “do not have a constitutional right to ‘direct how a public school teaches their child.’” Parker v. Hurley, 514 F. 3d 87, 102 (1st Cir., 2008) (rejecting parents’ efforts to remove books that offended their religious beliefs). 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). 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.3d 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). Thus, school officials have considerable discretion when they include material in the curriculum for educational reasons, while removal of material in response to religious or ideological objections may make a school district vulnerable to legal challenge. Compare Monteiro v. Tempe Union High School District (9th Cir. 1998) (recognizing the First Amendment right of students to read books selected for their “legitimate educational value” even if offensive to some parents and students), with Pratt v. Independent School Dist. No. 831 (8th Cir. 1982) and Case v. Unified School Dist. No. 233 (D. Kan. 1995) (First Amendment violated by removing materials because of hostility to content and message.) This book has sound educational value, as determined by your own teachers and education professionals. It is the school’s responsibility to provide a safe, non-discriminatory school environment, and to ensure that the anti-gay beliefs of some parents do not operate to the disadvantage of any students, no matter what their beliefs or sexual orientation. By institutionalizing the religious views of certain parents, you have failed in your obligations to serve the interests of students most vulnerable to harassment and bullying, and have failed to respect the constitutional rights of other students and their parents. We strongly urge you to recognize the legal, ethical and educational responsibility you owe all your students and their families and to reverse the decision to ban The Family Book and other similar materials. 2

We look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely,

Joan Bertin Executive Director National Coalition Against Censorship 19 Fulton Street, Suite 407 New York, NY 10038 (212) 807-6222 ext. 101 Bertin@ncac.org

Chris Finan President American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression 19 Fulton Street, Suite 407 New York, NY 10038 (212) 587-4025 ext. 4 chris@abffe.org

Megan Tingley Senior Vice President and Publisher Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Florrie Kichler President The Independent Book Publishers Association

Alexandra Owens Executive Director American Society of Journalists and Authors

Kent Williamson Executive Director National Council of Teachers of English

Judith Platt Director, Free Expression Advocacy Association of American Publishers

Charles Brownstein Executive Director Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Lonnie Nasatir Regional Director Anti-Defamation League

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