Districts' policies for book challenges are similar

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:17 a.m. CDT, Monday, October 8, 2012

This story is part of a larger project on book challenges in Missouri and the U.S. Find the full project here.

COLUMBIA — Beginning a book challenge in a Missouri public school district is as simple as filling out a form.

Each school district in Missouri establishes its own policies governing book challenges, but those policies differ little from district to district. The process in Chilhowee R-IV School District is typical. That’s where the parent of an elementary school student challenged "Fallout" by Ellen Hopkins, saying in a February complaint that the book includes objectionable content.

The parent challenged “Fallout” using a standard form to state the basis of the objection. Once the district received it, school Principal Bonnie Parsons appointed teachers, the guidance counselor and a community resident to a committee that evaluated the book. She asked each person to read the book and form his or her own opinion before discussing it as a group.

“I got a variety of people to be on the committee to get the widest viewpoints on the book,” Parsons said. “As long as you get a committee that’s unbiased, you’re in good shape.”

School districts across the state use committees to review challenged books, although they sometimes are appointed by the superintendent or other high-level administrators.

“Fallout” was not removed from the shelves during the evaluation, which spanned more than a month. The school had only one copy of the book, plus one copy on loan from a neighboring school.

“It was a big book, so that slowed our process down,” Parsons said. “We had to pass the copies around. We had to deal with the resources we had. This is the first book challenge the school has had in a good while.”

After each member of the committee read “Fallout,” they met to discuss the nature of the challenge and the book’s content. Ultimately, the committee decided to retain “Fallout” but to restrict access to it. High school students can check out the book routinely, but younger students must get a parental permission slip to check it out.

In Chilhowee and some other districts, the committee decides whether to keep, ban or restrict a book. If the challenger is dissatisfied, he or she appeals to the superintendent, who then refers the matter to the school board.

In other districts, the committee makes a recommendation that is subject to either the superintendent’s or the school board’s approval.

Supervising editors are Scott Swafford and Charles Davis.

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