BALDWIN, Kan. A decision by the Baldwin school district superintendent to pull an award-winning book from a ninth grade class has drawn criticism from a school board member.
The novel We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier includes weighty topics, such as teenage alcoholism and violence, and profane language. Many students were already well into the novel when Superintendent Jim White ordered copies of the book seized from the orientation class taught by Joyce Tallman after two complaints from parents.
White's decision, without input from the school board, drew almost immediate criticism.
"It's a case where one or two parents are forcing their personal beliefs on all students in the district, and that's wrong," said board member Stacy Cohen, who wants White to reverse his decision.
White said that after reading parts of the 1991 book it was clear to him it was not fit for his own daughter or granddaughter, so he ordered the book pulled. He said the book would remain in the high school library, but could not be used for the class.
The school board scheduled a special meeting for 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at district headquarters to decide whether We All Fall Down would be withheld or returned to the orientation class.
Timing of that session is unusual in that it will occur during Banned Books Week, a national event that runs Sept. 20 to Sept. 27.
Banned Books Week attempts to shed light on books that have been banned or threatened, including the Bible, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Cohen said the superintendent likely overstepped his authority when he removed the book from a classroom.
She based that conclusion on her reading of the district's policy manual. Cohen said there was no policy that would allow people to challenge the district's classroom curriculum.
"The key is we need to put the book back in the classroom and look at creating a policy," said Cohen, a former English teacher.
She said the district had a policy on challenging library materials. Under those rules, challenged books must stay on the library shelf until the issue is resolved.
The original letter objecting to We All Fall Down was sent by Lori Krysztof, who has a daughter in the high school orientation class and teaches kindergarten in the Baldwin district.
"I'm asking that the book be taken out of the curriculum for the class," Krysztof said. "I have not asked that the book be banned."
Krysztof said she found more than 50 objectionable passages while reading the 208-page novel. The book's profanity and sexual content were what she found most troublesome, she said.
We All Fall Down ranks 41st among the 100 most frequently challenged books from 1990 to 1999, according to the American Library Association.
"Unfortunately, any book can come under attack for any reason," said Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. "I hope families will pick up a banned book and read it and discuss it together."