The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey sent an Open Public Records Act request last Friday to the Rancocas Valley School District for documents that will shed light on the district's decision to remove the book Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology from the Rancocas Valley High School library. The book, which shares gay students' coming-out stories and reflections on identity, won the School Library Journal's Adult Books for High School Students Award in 2001.
"The ultimate decision of whether a book can be removed does not rest simply on whether a few individuals or students may be offended," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "Decisions to censor literature should only be based on a standard set of neutral criteria unrelated to the political or social themes in the book."
The school district made its decision after a political group specifically singled out books with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender themes. The ACLU-NJ filed its request in order to learn whether the school district's policies were applied fairly, without discrimination.
"Educators and school librarians are the best qualified to determine what kinds of books and materials schools should keep in their libraries," said Jacobs. "Neither political groups nor parents have a right to impose their decisions, morals, or values on all students and families."
In 1982, the United States Supreme Court held that school boards have only a limited right to remove books from school libraries. "Local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books," the Court explained. Rather, removals should be based only on "educational suitability," with school boards taking the input of educators into account.
"If we started removing every book that one group or another objects to, our libraries' shelves would practically be bare," Jacobs noted. "The idea is to expose students to a diversity of themes and views, not to tightly restrict the information they receive."
— ANDY LAGOMARSINO, NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM