On December 6th, 2016, the Accomack County School Board voted to permanently reinstate both To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn back to school library shelves, after removing them due to a parent’s complaint of the use of the n-word in both novels. The reasoning was that, “These novels are treasures of American literature and inspirational, timeless stories of conscious and bravery.” The chairman of the board, Ronnie Holden continued, “We agree that some of the language used is offensive and hurtful. Fortunately, Accomack County’s excellent teachers and media center specialists have a wonderful talent for conveying the bigger meanings and messages of literature.” Despite the parent’s advocation for different reading materials in the classroom, it was decided that these books were important to keep for their bigger meanings and messages to be discussed in a classroom setting.
Part of the decision made when discussing whether or not to remove the novels, was to change the policy regarding how these types of complaints were handled. When the complaint was made about these two particular novels, the school removed both books from the classroom and library immediately, which sparked students and community members to speak up. The policy now states that Superintendent Chris Holland can remove the books at his discretion and the decision the School Board makes is final. This policy change was spurred by how many complaints the School Board received about the way the way this challenge was handled.
This challenge to the book prompted the school system to re-think what kind of materials they were teaching and opened a huge discussion in the community. Students were brought to the forefront of this discussion when Sadye Saunders created a petition and the community was brought together at a protest. The removal and reinstatement of the book was covered by national news sources, bringing attention to the it and the county, to an even wider audience. Even though the decision was to keep the book part of Accomack County Schools curriculum, it does raise the issue of how language can hurt. Linguistically this novel brings attention to racial language, and even though it does show the readers how the language was used when this book takes place, it still displays the lack of black agency. With careful teaching this book can create productive conversations that are important to have and learn about as middle or high schooler. The book keeps being challenged and we believe it shows how important it is to have these conversations in the classroom and in the community, so we can make sure everyone can be informed and create an inclusive place to study and learn.Accomock County BoardDocs® Pro
Chasmar, Jessica. “‘Huckleberry Finn’ ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ return to Virginia classrooms after vote.” The Washington Times. 7 December 2016. www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/dec/7/huckleberry-finn-to-kill-a-mockingbird-return-to-v/
“PUBLIC COMPLAINTS ABOUT LEARNING RESOURCES.” Accomack County Public Schools Policy Manual. Web. Accesses 4 May 2018. www.boarddocs.com/vsba/accomack/Board.nsf/Public#