In the past few weeks, Baylee and I have made some tremendous strides in our research about the Ellen Hopkins censorship dispute in Norman. It looks as though this case will have a lot of material for us to discuss in our website, regardless of the fact that the school district did not end up taking Hopkins’s books off the library shelves of Whittier Middle School.
Norman Public Schools
Our initial email to Nick Migliorino, the current Norman Public Schools superintendent, was funneled through several layers of bureaucracy and suspicious questions about the publicity of our project. Eventually, we wound up talking to Kathryn Lewis, the Director of Libraries for the district. We spoke to Ms. Lewis in a phone interview last Monday in an effort to better understand the processes involved in challenging written material in the district, as well as the specific case from 2009.
Our talk with Kathryn Lewis was nothing like we anticipated; she was extremely pleasant, friendly, and seemed genuinely excited to help us with our project. She did not seem hostile or hesitant to answer our questions, perhaps partly due to the fact that the district’s policies on materials reconsideration take deliberate precautions against censorship. This is what the policy states regarding the challenging of a text by a parent or parent group:
“A student or his/her parent or guardian has the right to reject the use of instructional resources which seem incompatible with his/her values and beliefs. Alternate assignments will be provided upon request; no parent or guardian has the right to determine the instructional resources for students other than his/her own children.”.NPS Policy 5002: INSTRUCTIONAL resources (revised 01/15/2010)
This final clause was likely instrumental in delivering the eventual denial of the parent complaint against Ellen Hopkins’s Glass and Crank; removing these books from the library shelves, rather than just asserting that they not be taught in the classrooms, restricts access to the entirety of Whittier Middle School. The policy that includes this, however, is marked “revised 01/15/2010,” which is about 4 months after the Ellen Hopkins dispute, so it is unclear whether this version of the policy is the one that was followed by the district administration when they kept Hopkins’s books but canceled her visit.
In addition to sending us a PDF of the district’s materials policy, Ms. Lewis was able to locate and send us the original reconsideration form submitted by the parent complainant upon hearing about Ellen Hopkins’s visitation plans. We do not know the parent’s name, but the form she sent includes over 4 entire pages of “age-inappropriate” quotes and passages from Glass that the parent supplied as evidence against the text. Most of them deal with either explicit language or sexual content.
The files also include a scanned copy of a memo from November 10, 2009 (about a month after the initial complaint), detailing the school board Reconsideration Committee’s decision to keep the books on the library shelves. The memo lists several reasons that the committee voted to keep the books, most notably this: “The powerful message on teen drug addiction far outweighs the concern about sexual content.”
The resources provided by Kathryn Lewis give us a strong textual foundation from which to build our informative website. This week, Baylee and I will be at a conference in Albuquerque, so it will be a little bit more difficult to make substantial progress. However, we have already contacted Karin Perry, the original Whittier librarian involved with the case, who has expressed interest in answering any and all questions we have about what exactly went down in 2009. We will prepare some questions for her soon. I would also be interested in learning the name of the parent complainant and the names of those on the Reconsideration Committee, but I’m not sure if this will be possible. Regardless, in the next few weeks, we will probably focus on planning the website, gathering more information for a timeline, and perhaps visiting Whittier Middle School and the Norman Public Library system.