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.


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