School Board Overturns Ban on ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’

Last week, I posted about how the school board representing Hadley Junior High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois voted to ban The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

A quick summary: Last winter, a few students wanted to read the book on their own, but when one of the student’s parents heard about the book’s content — it talks about sex, homosexuality, drugs, etc. — they freaked out. It wasn’t enough to tell their own daughter to read something else; they didn’t want any student to have access to the book. Despite a committee of experts urging the school board to keep the book around for students who wanted to read it, the board voted 4-2 to reject their recommendation at the end of April, removing the book from teachers’ classrooms and effectively banning it.

From there, even more chaos ensued.

The Illinois Family Institute joined the pro-censorship side, arguing that no student should be reading this book (even independently, as the students at Hadley wanted to do). Local churches, too, gathered people together to fight against this idea of “unwholesome” books that introduce children to reality. (Reality, of course, goes against the main reason for the church’s existence.)

But over the past couple of weeks, momentum shifted to the students’ and educators’ side.

Students began using the Twitter hashtag #KeepTheBookAlive and found novel ways to promote their cause:

The author of the book at the center of this controversy, Stephen Chbosky, tweeted his support for the students, too:

Even legendary children’s book author Judy Blume (who’s no stranger to having her books banned) voiced her support of the students at Chicago’s Printers Row Lit Fest last night, filming a video clip that was shown at tonight’s board meeting and letting her audience know that she would be giving her $5,000 Young Adult Literary Prize award to the National Coalition Against Censorship in honor of the Hadley students.

The NCAC helped out by sending the school board a letter on Thursday explaining why the ban needed to be overturned:

No book is right for every student. Classroom libraries serve a unique and important role by offering students reading choices according to their own interests, experiences, and family values. Parents are free to supervise what their children select and request an alternative if they object to a particular book. However, removing a book restricts the rights of other students and parents who may want their children to be able to read books such as Perks with the benefit of a teacher’s guidance

Tonight, the Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 school board met to reconsider the ban. At issue were two things:

First was parental notification. Teachers already send home a letter to parents at the beginning of the school year letting them know that they have final say when it comes to their child’s independent reading selections. If the parents feel a book is inappropriate, their child doesn’t have to read it. The new proposal suggested sending home a more explicit letter to parents.

Second was the ban itself. The committee suggested overturning it.

Since the 4-2 vote back in April (with one member absent), elections for the school board have come and gone, leaving the board with three new members… so things were up in the air.

So what happened at tonight’s board meeting?

The vote was 6-1 to overturn the ban!

News outlets are beginning to post details from the meeting.

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.”

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.

The takeaway is that proponents of censorship have lost and that’s good news for the rest of us. No one has to read the book if they don’t want to — that was true before and it’s still true now. This vote just allows students to have access to the book. Parents will be reminded that it’s their responsibility to talk to their kids about what is and isn’t appropriate for them — something else that was true before and is still true now.

On a different note, the local ABC affiliate in Chicago reported at 8:28p (local time) that the book ban had been overturned, which is the report that informed my post:

On Monday night, parents and the Board of Glen Ellyn School District 41 decided to bring back “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

It turned out that report was published more than an hour before the actual vote took place. They later deleted the page, but not before I grabbed a screenshot…:

Sometimes, reporters write up a couple of different pieces so they can pull the trigger no matter the outcome. In this case, ABC got lucky they posted early but happened to pick the right outcome.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • TCC

    That’s excellent news – and coincidentally, I started re-reading it tonight because of the whole controversy. (I sent an E-mail to the board members when I read about the case here, and it got me thinking about the book again.) Hooray for fighting back censorship!

  • Matt Eggler

    Conservative fundamentalists rely on the fact that most people are apathetic or just plain not paying attention. Even though there aren’t that many of them they show up en masse at school board meetings and the board member see a bunch of parents upset about something and hardly anybody, if anybody, taking the other side so they go along with what the perceived majority wants. I takes a hell of a lot of effort to get the supine majority of reasonably reasonable people aware of what is going on and get them to act. Kudos to the citizens of Glen Ellyn

  • closetatheist

    wow, maybe the religious should worry about censoring the books that actually revere hurtful practices like genocide, rape, incest, infanticide…oh wait.

  • Ian Reide

    It just shows, even though I agree with Matt Eggler’s point about apathy (or just being very busy as most are), that it is possible to confront and defeat cons/xian in the community. Now that I know the book exists, I might just read it myself. I mean, if it annoys xians, it must be good for something.

  • Justin Miyundees

    Excellent! Now that you’ve got a taste of your power, why are adults at 18 not allowed the same rights as adults at 21? Onward Cyber Soldiers!!!

  • LesterBallard

    It was a book?

  • Liokae

    “It turned out that report was published more than an hour before the actual vote took place. They later deleted the page, but not before I grabbed a screenshot…:

    What’s up with that, ABC?”

    News agencies routinely pre-write multiple versions of a story so that they can post the relevant one as soon as possible, hopefully to beat out their competitors. With electronic media like this, it’s not unusual for one to get posted early by mistake.

  • Crystal Steltenpohl

    I was just about to post the same thing.

  • Liokae

    It’s not even remotely a new thing, either. “Dewey Defeats Truman”, anybody? :D

  • Kevin Beach

    You either want to:
    A) drink

    B) buy a handgun

  • mudskipper5

    Score one for the freedom to make your own decisions and explore new ideas and to open new doors in the world around you.

    And for the busybodies of the world who want to make decisions for you because (they say in one breath) that they know better and then turn around (in the next breath) and complain that their own rights and freedoms are being attacked, you scored a big, empty zero.

    Congratulations to the students and their supporters who stood up to these moralizing bullies and made their voices heard. If these are the students our public schools are producing, we’re going to be okay.

  • Justin Miyundees

    I suppose it could seem so, but it’s not quite the flip issue once a person is embroiled. No – I’m really just campaigning in hopes that MY teenage sons can reach 21 without a criminal record for having a beer. Unlike their cousin who was not so lucky.

    This farce is something of a cottage industry in our little college town – so many underaged drinkers and so few cops. So, they just out at the Waffle House (not patrolling mind you) after hours like kids picking out kittens at a pet store.

    Then there’s the $5000 – $10,000 legal costs not to mention the months of community service for the kids.

    Come to think of it, now I could use a drink.

  • Justin Miyundees

    Please forgive the typo “So they just hang out at the Waffle House…”.

  • Justin Miyundees

    There’s also a whole underground network of fake i.d.’s:

    It’s ridiculous – a black market for i.d.’s for adults. And it just snowballs because not only are you liable to be charged with underage drinking, but also with fraud or forgery and if you use someone else’s i.d., they can be charged too. It’s crazy.

    I don’t mean to hijack the thread, but it amazes me that such a huge potentially united voting block would stand for being treated so shabbily.

  • 3lemenope

    It’s a common practice, and a bad one.

  • observer

    Well hell, maybe they ought to be told that they can cherry-pick the book, much like they do the Bible.

  • unclemike

    Or they could just, you know, not drink.

  • wabney

    Ha – I’m guessing you’ve never been to Athens. Not drinking means being a social pariah.

  • Kevin Beach

    I may have been projecting, I’m 18, and would like to drink legally. I also think its ridiculous that I can buy a .50 BMG sniper rifle but not a.22LR six shooter. Your reasons are out of concern for your son, my are out of concern for myself, I guess I need to yield the moral high ground.

  • unclemike

    So…teen peer pressure is a good enough reason to change alcohol laws? I grew up in OC, where underage drinking is almost an art. I just hung around people who didn’t always get drunk on a Friday night.

  • Greg G.

    OU? I was there in the 80′s. We did the Court Street Crawl on weekends and Wednesdays. The non-drinkers weren’t social pariahs for not drinking. It was because they skewed the grading curves.

  • griffox

    I see this as just another way that Christians try to control what everyone else does. Most of them hadn’t even read the book in question, yet they were willing to not only condemn it, but force it out of the hands of all students. And, yes, the great irony is that many of them would gladly vote to make Bibles mandatory reading for all students – proof that these people are mindless puppets for their religion.

  • Ewan

    If someone is held to be capable enough to make decisions about joining the military, getting married etc. then they’re capable enough to make decisions about alcohol.

    You can argue for raising or lowering the age of majority, but there’s no basis for thinking that alcohol is somehow uniquely difficult or dangerous that it needs a higher age.

  • griffox

    Peer pressure? Most teens will gladly keep their illicit substances to themselves. I think peer pressure is a completely overrated scapegoat; it’s saying “the devil made me do it.” I was never pressured into doing something I didn’t want to do.

  • Greg G.

    You should have had posts already prepared on this issue like Liokae did.

  • moother

    Can you say “Streisand effect”?

    Can you? Can you?

  • Art

    Good. Exploring sexuality, encountering drugs/alcohol, and finding yourself in unsavory situations is exactly what starts to happen in Jr. High. This book is absolutely age appropriate. Having an open discussion among your peers about situations that occur in this book could make a huge difference on the choices they make.

  • Artor

    Good thing you didn’t post it earlier, like before Hemant’s story went online!

  • whatever

    Where the hell did you people go to junior high that this is the case? Seriously.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    Cue the cries of liberal indoctrination from the IFI

  • Art

    A very middle class Chicago suburb. Our high school was in the top 50 in the nation. You mean to tell me that 13 year old kids aren’t getting a hold of nude-y magazines, exploring their interest in the opposite (or even same) sex, and starting to see booze and marijuana show up in their circle of friends? It’s there. That is when it starts. It becomes the norm in high school, but it starts in the early teens. Let’s talk about real life situations instead of pretending they don’t happen. Education and discussion lead to more critical thinking and hopefully better choices.

    This book discusses a character witnessing a rape. Remember Steubenville? This stuff happens and it can’t be ignored. Educate.

  • Anna

    I was a very innocent kid, but I heard my peers talking about all of those things, and I went to a top-rated middle school in a wealthy suburb.

    Eighth graders are 13 and 14 years old, and that’s exactly the right age to educate them on life’s realities.

  • closetatheist

    I really, really hope that some snarky board member brought that up during the discussions. I would have paid to see the looks on the Christians’ faces as the quip bounced around in their heads for a second and then the relevance completely escaped them.