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Newly Revealed Records Detail 2013 Decision to Remove Persepolis from CPS Classrooms

Posted By Jonathan M. Kelley, Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Cross-posted to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom blog. 

During the week of March 11, 2013, directives were issued by administrators at Chicago Public Schools’ Fullerton school network and Lane Tech High School to remove Marjane Sartrapi’s acclaimed graphic novel Persepolis from school libraries and classrooms on the grounds that the book contained inappropriate language and images.

The directive to remove Persepolis from CPS’ libraries and classrooms became public after students at Lane Tech alerted their colleagues in the school’s journalism program. Bloggers and critics publicized the directive and the apparent effort to ban the book from CPS classrooms and students took to the streets to protest the book’s removal. As the protests mounted, CPS administrators slowly backtracked on the initial directive; CPS Chief Barbara Byrd Bennett eventually issued a letter denying that there was any effort to ban the book and limiting the directive to remove Persepolis to 7th grade classrooms.

ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Freedom to Read Foundation were involved from the beginning, supporting the students and organizations that sought to keep the book in CPS classrooms, publicly protesting the apparent censorship of a critically praised work of literature, and seeking information about the events leading up to the decision to remove the book. In response to a FTRF Freedom of Information Act request that asked for all correspondence and electronic communications related to the decision to remove Persepolis from CPS classrooms, we only received the directives and letters that had already been publicly disclosed, and a copy of the agenda for the chief of schools meeting on March 11, 2013.  That document contained no information at all about Persepolis or the decision to remove or recall the book. We remained in the dark about who had filed the initial complaint about Persepolis and who had made the decision to remove the book from CPS classrooms.

Then Jarrett Dapier, an intrepid MLIS candidate at the University of Illinois’ Graduate School of Library and Information Science, filed his own FOIA request in order to gather materials for his paper on school censorship. And in December 2014, CPS provided Dapier with the emails and correspondence we – and other organizations – were​ told did not exist in 2013.

Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader has already written about the contents of the emails. With the permission of Mr. Dapier, we are now sharing the actual emails and correspondence – which reveal that, contrary to CPS’ public statements in 2013, there was in fact an effort to remove Persepolis from all schools and libraries in CPS. The emails detail the initial complaint, the decision to remove the book, and the eventual modification of the original directive to remove the book from CPS classrooms and libraries. (It’s important to note that Persepolis remained in school libraries only because a strong reconsideration policy – CPS Policy 604.7 – prevented its removal without sufficient review and due process.) The emails are an object lesson in casual censorship, the ability of one person to pass judgment on a work of literature, and the chaotic decision-making that occurs when a school system fails to have policies in place to address demands to censor classroom materials.

Our thanks to Mr. Dapier for his initiative and perseverance in obtaining these public records.

Tags:  Chicago Public Schools  FOIA  Office for Intellectual Freedom  Persepolis 

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June FTRF News online

Posted By Jonathan M. Kelley, Thursday, June 20, 2013

The June 2013 issue of the Freedom to Read Foundation News is in the mail - and has been posted online.  Our quarterly publication is available as a benefit to all current FTRF members, as well as to organizations who subscribe.  To access the current issue, you must be signed in as a member.  Sign-in directions are at  the top right corner of this page.  (Back issues, from 1991 to March 2013, are available to members and non-members.)

This issue has the latest information on the Chicago Public Schools' controversy over the graphic novel Persepolis, profiles of the many spring FTRF "winners" (Roll of Honor Award, Conable Scholarship, Krug Fund Banned Books Week grants, and the trustee elections), and information about FTRF's upcoming ALA Annual Conference activities (including the Member Reception with Sara Paretsky). We hope you enjoy this issue - we'd love your feedback (in the comments here, on Twitter, or shoot us an email)!

If you're not a 2013 member of the Freedom to Read Foundation, take this opportunity to become one!

Tags:  Chicago Public Schools  ConableJudith Krug Memorial Fund  FTRF news  Roll of Honor  Sara Paretsky 

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FTRF files FOIA request to Chicago Public Schools over removal of Persepolis

Posted By Jonathan M. Kelley, Friday, March 15, 2013

The Freedom to Read Foundation today issued a FOIA request to the Chicago Public Schools for all documents related to the removal of the graphic novel "Persepolis" from district schools.

Additionally, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom has written a letter urging CPS to reinstate the book for district students.

The OIF Blog has more on the situation, including text of the letter to CPS:

As documented by DNAinfo.com and other blogs, the Chicago Public Schools yesterday ordered all copies of the award-winning graphic novel Persepolis out of schools district-wide. Initially the order seemed to have applied to libraries, but the head of school libraries has since issued a directive that, pursuant to its collection development policy, the book is to remain on library shelves.

OIF staff spoke with a CPS official this afternoon, she was confirmed that the books were removed due to what she termed "graphic illustrations and language" and concerns about "developmental preparedness" and "student readiness." While still in school libraries, they are out of classroom libraries and teaching curriculum until they can "control" how the book is being presented. She said there was no timeline for CPS's evaluation. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has also issued a memo to CPS principals regarding the removal.

Follow @FTRF and @OIF for the latest on this developing situation.




Tags:  banned books  Chicago Public Schools  CPS  FOIA  Freedom of Information Act  Persepolis 

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