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BY ELECTRONIC MAIL:

July 9, 2014
Superintendent Robert S. Fulton and Members of the Cape Henlopen Board of Education
Cape Henlopen School District
1270 Kings Highway
Lewes, DE 19958
Re: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth
Dear Superintendent Fulton and Members of the Cape Henlopen Board of Education:
As organizations concerned with the freedom to read and the application of First Amendment law and
principles in public institutions, we are deeply concerned about the precipitous removal of The
Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily Danforth, from the summer reading list for incoming students
in college prep and honors classes at Cape Henlopen High School. Equally troubling is the fact that the
book was removed without following the procedures set out in the Cape Henlopen School District
Policies, and without a review of the books literary and educational merits. For these reasons, we
strongly urge you to reinstate the book.
As we understand it, some parents expressed concerns about the book to a board member, who raised
them at a board meeting on June 12, and the board then voted to remove the book from the list,
ostensibly because it contains profanity. Since the Board acted without the benefit of an assessment of
the books educational and literary value when they voted to remove it from the reading list, and some,
if not most, members admittedly had not read the book in its entirety, there is substantial ground for
concern about the basis for its removal.
The Boards own policies, which unfortunately were not followed, are designed to prevent this result.
Policy #110 applies to instructional materials, which on its face includes assigned reading, and
provides that they will be selected from recognized authoritative bibliographies. The Miseducation of
Cameron Post, like other books on the reading list, is on the Blue Hen List, a list of books recommended
for this age group by state librarians from across the state.
However, recognizing that opinions [about instructional materials] may differ in a democracy, Policy

#110 also sets out procedures for questioning or challenging instructional materials. It requires
objectors to fill out a form entitled Request for Reconsideration of Library and Instructional Materials,
and submit it to the school principal. The policy then stipulates that the questioned materials will be
read and reevaluated by a review committee appointed and chaired by the appropriate
director/supervisor. (Emphasis added.)*
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a highly acclaimed coming of age novel. It won the American
Library Associations Booklist Editors Choice award for youth in 2012. It was also selected for the 2013
Best Fiction for Young Adults list by the Young Adult Library Services Association, which recommends
books for ages 12-18 that meet the criteria of both good quality literature and appealing reading for
teens. This praise was echoed in starred reviews in Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and School Library
Journal, which described it as a finely crafted, sophisticated coming-of-age debut novel [that] is
multilayered, finessing such issues as loss, first love, and friendship. An excellent read for both teens
and adults.
Removing a book with educational and literary value raises serious constitutional questions under the
present circumstances. Government officials, including public school administrators, are under a
constitutional obligation not to remove or restrict content because some members of the community
object to or disapprove of it. The Supreme Court has cautioned that school officials may not remove
books from library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by
their removal to prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of
opinion. Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 872 (1982) (plurality opinion).
Public opinion likewise is irrelevant to the application of First Amendment principles:
[t]he very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of
political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials .Ones right to
life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other
fundamental rights may not be submitted to a vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.
West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette (1943).
Every community is home to a diversity of opinions on moral and religious questions. Cancelling the
assignment of The Miseducation of Cameron Post privileges the political, moral, and/or religious beliefs
of some individuals, who object to the book, over others, who do not. It is precisely this form of
viewpoint discrimination by government that our constitutional system is designed to prevent. This
rule is also essential to the integrity of the educational program, since there are few instructional
materials that do not include something that is objectionable to someone. Any attempt to eliminate
everything that is objectionable...will leave public schools in shreds. Nothing but educational confusion
and a discrediting of the public school system can result.... McCollum v. Board of Educ. 332 U.S. 203
(1948) (Jackson, J. concurring).

* Other complaints about the program, or the operations of the district fall under Policy #906. Complaints

under this section must also be brought initially to the principal or school administrator. If the complaint is
not resolved informally at that stage, a written appeal may be filed with the superintendent. Additional
appeal procedures are available thereafter; however the board is not empowered to act on any complaint

While school officials have considerable discretion to include material in the educational program
materials, they have considerably less discretion to exclude content. Indeed, removing material in
response to such objections may expose school districts to liability for infringing the First Amendment
rights of students whose parents do not object. See Monteiro v. Tempe Union High School District (9th
Cir. 1998) (recognizing the First Amendment right of students to read books selected for their
legitimate educational value), Pratt v. Independent School Dist. No. 831 (8th Cir. 1982) (First
Amendment violated when films removed because of hostility to content and message), and Case v.
Unified School Dist. No. 233 (D. Kan. 1995) (First Amendment violated by removing a book from school
library based on hostility to its ideas).
In this case, there is no reasonable argument that the presence of The Miseducation of Cameron Post on
the summer reading list compromises the rights of parents who object to the book. The list contains 10
books, and parents who objects to one can direct their children to another. Of course, those who object
to the book are entitled to their view. However, they have no right to impose it on others or to demand
that the education system accommodate their personal views and preferences.
The courts have consistently held that a parent has no right to tell a public school what his or her child
will and will not be taught, Leebaert v. Harrington, 332 F.3d 134, 141 (2d Cir. 2003), or to direct how a
public school teaches their child. Blau v. Fort Thomas Public School District, et al, 401 F.3d 381, 395 (6th
Cir. 2005). See also Parker v. Hurley (1st Cir. 2008) (rejecting effort to remove books that offend parents
and students religious beliefs). Any other rule would put schools in the untenable position of having
"to cater a curriculum for each student whose parents had genuine moral disagreements with the
school's choice of subject matter." Brown v. Hot, Sexy and Safer Productions, Inc., 68 F.3d 525, 534 (1st
Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1159 (1996). See also Swanson v. Guthrie Indep. School Dist., 135 F.3d
694, 699 (10th Cir. 1998); Littlefield v. Forney Indep. School, 268 F.3d 275, 291 (5th Cir. 2001).
Dozens of highly regarded books routinely taught in high school contain language and situations
similar to those in The Miseducation of Cameron Post. These include books that regularly appear on the
AP exam, such as Alice Walkers The Color Purple, Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina, as well as
popular young adult fiction, such as John Greens The Fault is in Our Stars, which is also on the
summer reading list. The language and situations in any novel must be seen in the context of the entire
work. An authors broad moral vision, total treatment of theme, and realistic portrayal of characters and
dialogue are ignored when protesters focus only on aspects that are offensive to them. While there may
be shock value in isolating and listing selected passages from a book, this does not provide insight into
its educational and literary quality, which must be the focus of school officials responding to such
challenges.
It is no answer to say that the book has not been censored because it is still available in the library. A
book does not have to be censored everywhere to be censored somewhere, nor does it have to be made
completely inaccessible to fall within the First Amendment's prohibition on government action
"abridging freedom of speech."

until after school officials have addressed it. The only exception is for textbooks which, pursuant to Policy #108,
are selected by the board after consultation with a curriculum study committee. However, the term textbook
could hardly be construed to apply to a summer reading list.

Decisions about instructional materials should be based on sound educational grounds, not because
some people do or do not agree with the message or content of a particular book. This approach is
consistent with constitutional and educational principles and will serve the interests of both the district
and its students. We urge you to demonstrate your commitment to these goals by restoring The
Miseducation of Cameron Post to the Cape Henlopen High School summer reading list.
As a final matter, we are aware of reports that the board may consider suspending the entire summer
reading list until it is reviewed by a curriculum committee. We hope this is not the case, because there
is no basis for such an extreme response that will undermine the educational program. There is no
indication that the list was created improperly, and suspending it would create the impression that the
board is trying to shield itself from the charge that it improperly removed The Miseducation of Cameron
Post. Moreover, such an act would display disregard for students, some of whom have undoubtedly
begun their summer reading assignment in reliance on the list, as they had the right to do. Your
policies already provide the blueprint for responding to the situation: if there are complaints about any
book on the list, they can and should be handled through procedures set out in the policy, as noted
above; in the meantime, students whose parents object to any book may select a different book or
request an alternative assignment.
If you have any questions, or if we can be of assistance in resolving this matter, please do not hesitate to
contact us.
Sincerely,

Joan Bertin, Executive Director


National Coalition Against Censorship

Chris Finan, President


American Booksellers Foundation For Free Expression

Millie Davis, Senior Developer


Affiliate Groups and Public Outreach
National Council of Teachers of English

Lin Oliver, Executive Director


Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators

Susanna Reich, Chair


Children's and Young Adult Book Committee
PEN American Center

Charles Brownstein, Executive Director


Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Judy Platt, Director


Free Expression Advocacy
Association of American Publishers

To: Bob.fulton@cape.k12.de.us
SpencerE.Brittingham@cape.k12.de.us
Roni.Posner@cape.k12.de.us
Jennifer.Burton@cape.k12.de.us

Andy.Lewis@cape.k12.de.us
Sandi.Minard@cape.k12.de.us
Noble.Prettyman@cape.k12.de.us
Alison.Myers@cape.k12.de.us