Ban spurs giveaway of books in Baldwin

Most people attending tonight’s high school football game between Baldwin and Perry-Lecompton probably will be there to cheer the teams. But four Baldwin High School students have another purpose: protesting a book banning.

Lynne Lanners, a Baldwin High School sophomore, and three fellow students will hand out copies of Robert Cormier’s “We All Fall Down” at Liston Stadium in Baldwin to protest the school board’s Monday night decision to keep the banned book out of classrooms.

“Basically we are just protesting the banning of the book out of (Supt. Jim) White’s classrooms, because it is in conflict with school board policy,” Lanners said.

The banning has been a controversy in the district since September, when White ordered the book pulled from a freshman English class taught by Joyce Tallman. White received two complaints from parents about the book, which deals with alcoholism and violence, among other things, and includes strong language.

Controversy re-energized

Monday night, the controversy got fresh legs after the school board voted to re-establish a committee charged with evaluating the book.

The committee originally was formed after complaints that White unilaterally jerked the book from the classroom. But five days after its creation, the committee was disbanded by the school board — it said the district’s policy on dealing with challenged material or books was not clear enough.

The board reversed itself Monday and reinstated the review committee. But the board did not allow the book to be reintroduced into the class — despite its stated policy that challenged books are to be made available until the evaluation process is complete.

Currently, there is only one copy of the book in the school’s library.

The 4-3 vote against allowing the book back in class while it is evaluated angered many parents and students.

“Our problem is that an individual can take a book out of the classroom” without a formal review or evaluation process, Lanners said.

ACLU engaged

A group of Baldwin parents, including Betty Bullock, whose son graduated in 2001, also is taking action. The group contacted the American Civil Liberties Union to see if it would consider handling the case.

“At this point in time we’ve filed a complaint,” Bullock said. “They (the ACLU) reviewed it and are definitely interested.”

Bullock said the parents believed White and the school board misinterpreted the district’s policy and incorrectly kept the book from the classroom.

Jana Jorn, a Baldwin High librarian and book review committee member, said she understood the parent’s concerns.

“The clear intent of the policy is that no one person should be able to take material out of the classroom,” Jorn said.

Board support

The protest at the football game will be the first by students, though some have attended the school board meetings to oppose the book banning. The football game protest has the support of school board member Stacy Cohen.

“I totally believe in freedom of speech,” Cohen said. “Decisions are getting made about the students without their input.”

Lanners and three other students will pass out 29 copies of the book, which parents ordered over the Internet, before the game and during the first half.

“We support the use of ‘We All Fall Down’ because it is realistic about the issues students face today,” Lanners said. “In doing this, we hope to continue to raise awareness of the book.”

Book review committee member David Wagner, father of a Baldwin High freshman, read the book but said he didn’t find it offensive. He said he has not read the original complaint filed against the book, but he hoped that in the next 30 days — the time the board has to review the book — a meaningful decision could be reached.

“The bear is in the middle of the living room, and we need to get it out,” Wagner said.