February 15 2017
Jillian Kay Melchior
During its “Celebrate Literacy Week,” a Florida high school ended up canceling the reading of a book after parents complained about its content.
That decision has drawn criticism, both from the book’s author and from the National Coalition Against Censorship, which called the Celebrate Literacy Week book ban “a textbook case of situational irony.”
But the book also features about three pages of content that some parents claimed were inappropriate, including discussion about the “movie star breasts” of one character. So Jay High School decided at the last minute to cancel the book’s reading, though students can still check out Gutless in the media center.
In an interview with the local paper, Santa Rosa County’s director of high schools, Jason Weeks, said that neither the high school’s principle nor the district “supports inappropriate pieces of that book. There was no disagreement about that,” adding that the school’s “process had a gap in it and we will make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
But in emailed comments, school administrators insisted their decision didn’t constitute censorship.
“The book is NOT banned,” said superintendent Tim Wyrosdick in an emailed statement. “Still present in the media center and being checked out by students. The ONLY change is the book is NOT part of a school wide read.”
Wyrosdick declined our request for a phone interview and did not answer further questions.
Weeks, the director of high schools, said that “it was a chorale reading of the book that was suspended,” adding that “the book was not removed nor was it banned from the curriculum.”
The author of Gutless, Carl Deuker, condemned Jay High School’s decision, saying the book was specifically chosen to engage students and to get them excited about reading.
“By objecting to a passage taken out of context, the parents who got Gutless banned provide a classic example to their young adult children of how not to read,” Deuker said in an email to Heat Street. “Even more disturbing is that both the principal and the superintendent buckled to the protest. … Is it censorship? Well, here is the long-term result. When books are chosen for Florida Literacy Week at Jay High School next year and the year after and the year after that, you can be quite certain that NOTHING remotely controversial will be selected for the school-wide read. It’ll be a steady diet of Johnny Tremain and White Fang, and those boys in the back of the room will yawn their way through another week.”
If parents and administrators hoped to shield students from the controversial content, their plan isn’t working very well. Since Jay High School yanked the book from its planned reading, students have checked out every single copy the school media center has in stock, Weeks told Heat Street.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.