Dist. 41 takes new look at 'Wallflower' book ban

Updated 5/27/2013 5:56 AM
  • The Glen Ellyn District 41 school board is expected to discuss Tuesday whether or not to return "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" to eighth-grade classrooms at Hadley Junior High School.

    The Glen Ellyn District 41 school board is expected to discuss Tuesday whether or not to return "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" to eighth-grade classrooms at Hadley Junior High School.

A controversial book that was removed from eighth-grade classroom shelves at Hadley Junior High School in Glen Ellyn could return, under a proposal by school district officials.

A Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 committee made up primarily of teachers and administrators is asking the school board to reverse its decision to remove "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" as an independent reading option in eighth-grade literacy classrooms.

The request comes as district officials say they plan to introduce additional "safeguards" next school year that include sending parents a letter that would give them the chance to weigh in on their child's reading choices.

The school board is expected to discuss the request to bring back the book at a board meeting Tuesday night, and vote on the matter as early as June 10.

Superintendent Ann Riebock wrote in an email to parents that the district has been working on "an approach that preserves choice of reading matter and strengthens parent partnership and responsibility in that choice."

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.

Critics have argued the novel is unsuitable for young readers due to its sexually explicit content and language, and references to drugs, suicide, masturbation, bestiality and homosexuality.

Parents of a Hadley eighth-grader who took issue with some of the book's passages filed a formal request in January to remove it from classrooms. The district's reconsideration committee recommended "Wallflower" be retained for independent reading by eighth-grade students and not be used for instructional purposes, but the school board voted 4-2 on April 29 to remove the book.

The board's decision to remove copies of "Wallflower" from classrooms was made after the canvassing of the April election results, and before three new board members were seated, so it's possible new board members will have their own views to offer.

Sam Black, a returning board member who was chosen as the new board president, said he stands by his original vote to remove the book because he doesn't think it's age-appropriate for middle schoolers.

But he says his preference is to create a more effective parental notice system in which teachers alert parents when their children will be reading controversial texts in class.

District officials have proposed sending parents a notification letter at the start of every school year that states, in part, "parents should engage in discussions with their child about their independent reading selection and be aware of the book their child is reading." But if the book is something parents would prefer their child not read, parents are encouraged to contact teachers, according to the letter.

The document would need to be signed by parents and returned to school before their child could check out a book from the classroom library.

Teachers also will send parents a revised letter at the start of every trimester that provides links to literature reviews "so parents can review and approve the various titles their child may be interested in reading," district officials said.

"Wallflower" is a frequent entry on the American Library Association's annual list of the most frequently challenged books.

In 2009, it was No. 3 on the list.

Barbara Jones, director of the association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, said her office has contacted Chbosky, the book's author, who is "very concerned" about the District 41 board's decision.

She argued it's better that controversial books such as "Wallflower" be available in a school environment where issues they raise can be discussed with adults.

"I would err on the side of letting students have choices. I deeply respect the role of school boards to have to make tough decisions -- I get it -- but I also get that teachers and students have a role in this, too," Jones said. "I would say not every book is for every student. It is really up to parents to say, 'I don't want my child reading this book,' rather than taking the book away from everybody, because some students are ready for this book."

An online petition calling for the board to "reconvene and vote to support freedom of speech and the pursuit of knowledge, rather than censorship and the limitation of young minds" had garnered more than 600 signatures as of Sunday.

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