Controversial book headed back to Glen Ellyn District 41 library shelves

A controversial book removed in April from eighth-grade classrooms at Hadley Junior High School in Glen Ellyn will be back on the shelves when students return to class in the fall.

The Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 school board voted 6-1 Monday to overturn the decision by a previous board to remove copies of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” from eighth-grade literacy classrooms at Hadley over concerns about sexually explicit content and language.

Most board members were willing to reinstate the book after assurances from district administrators that a revised parental notification letter would be sent at the start of each school year warning parents that their children could be getting access to sometimes mature content in classroom libraries.

Parents would have to sign the letter and return it to school before their child could check out books from the classroom library. They could also comment on the letter if there are texts they do not want their child reading.

Board member Erica Nelson said members of the public who spoke on both sides of the issue in advance of the board’s vote made it clear that parents should have “a critical voice in terms of what their children are reading.” The district’s revised parental notification letter, she said, would accomplish that goal.

“Ultimately it’s parents’ responsibility,” Nelson said. “We have a strong desire for parents to have ongoing communication with teachers to be able to set parameters for their child’s reading choices.”

The letter states, in part, that some of the books students may select as independent reading options from the classroom library may “address a variety of issues, including, but not limited to sex, drugs, mental illness and violence. Some may include strong language.”

Parents of a Hadley eighth-grader objected to some passages in the book and filed a formal request in January to remove it from classrooms.

The book, written by Stephen Chbosky and published in 1999, is a coming-of-age tale about a 15-year-old high school freshman who writes letters to an anonymous friend.

A district reconsideration committee primarily composed of teachers and administrators recommended the book be retained for independent reading by eighth-grade students and not be used for instructional purposes, but the school board voted 4-2 April 29 to remove the book from the shelves.

That decision came before the canvassing of April election results, allowing three new board members on Monday to have the opportunity to weigh in on the issue.

One of the new board members, Joe Bochenski, said the controversy wasn’t specifically about “Wallflower” but about all books in Hadley classroom libraries.

“At the end of the day, I believe a public school’s classroom libraries have a responsibility to meet all students’ needs,” Bochenski said.

Returning board member Sam Black, now the board president, was the lone vote to keep the book off the shelves, arguing that it wasn’t age-appropriate for middle school students.

Board members agreed the board’s policy committee should re-examine the district’s parental notification procedures this summer.

In advance of the board’s vote, supporters and opponents of the book’s removal filled the board room to ask board members to vote on their side.

Those in favor of returning the book to Hadley, many holding yellow flowers or wearing them in their ears, included recent Hadley graduate Maddie Giffin, who distributed fliers throughout Glen Ellyn asking the board to reverse the ban. She was part of a group of students that met children’s author Judy Blume at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest in Chicago last weekend and taped Blume in an online video in which she asks the school board to “keep the book alive.”

The controversy also got the attention of national groups such as the National Coalition Against Censorship and American Library Association, which sent letters to school board members asking them to overturn the ban.

Opponents of the book, including Lisa DiGiacoma, a Glen Ellyn resident, said teachers who wore pins and necklaces to school with the words “freedom” and “stop banning books” were pouring “gasoline on an already inflamed and contentious issue.”

Caitlin Palmisano, a recent Hadley graduate, said she was “shaking and caught off guard” when she first read the book. She also said her friend, the daughter of the parents who sought the book’s removal, was bullied in school by students angry the book had been removed.

Board member Patrick Escalante said the reading choices of parents and students should be respected.

“I would hope this administration deals with those things because the last thing I want to hear my son or daughter say is, ‘I chose not to read this book and my once-friends are now bullying me.’ I want respect for approval and respect for not approval.”

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