Like Water for Chocolate Letter | Politics | Constitution

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      October 24, 2012 Pete Koehler Chief Educational Officer Nampa High School 203 Lake Lowell Ave., Nampa, ID 83686     Dear Mr. Koehler, We are writing to express our concern over the removal of Laura Esquivel’s novel Like Water For Chocolate (Anchor Books) from English classrooms in Nampa High School in response to parental objections to sexual content in the book. While we appreciate Nampa High School’s sensitivity to parent concerns, there are constitutional implications when a text is
   October 24, 2012Pete KoehlerChief Educational OfficerNampa High School203 Lake Lowell Ave.,Nampa, ID 83686Dear Mr. Koehler,We are writing to express our concern over the removal of Laura Esquivel’snovel  Like Water For Chocolate (Anchor Books) from English classrooms inNampa High School in response to parental objections to sexual content in thebook. While we appreciate Nampa High School’s sensitivity to parentconcerns, there are constitutional implications when a text is removed withoutan official review of its pedagogical value.The removal of a book because of objections to its content raises seriousconstitutional concerns. Government officials, including public schooladministrators, may not prohibit “the expression of an idea simply becausesociety finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Texas v. Johnson  (1989); see also  Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District  No. 26 v. Pico (1982) (“local school boards may not remove books fromschool libraries simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those booksand seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics,nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’”)Laura Esquivel’s  Like Water for Chocolate is an exemplary text in the magicalrealism style, adopted by Nampa English teachers to adhere to Idaho CommonCore Standards in teaching world literature. The novel follows the trials of Tita as she seeks her own independence within the cultural restrictions andfamily duties of turn-of-the-century Mexico. It has been singled out as animportant commentary on the emergence of Mexican feminism. PublishersWeekly said that “Esquivel does a splendid job of describing the frustration,love and hope expressed through the most domestic and feminine of arts,family cooking, suggesting by implication the limited options available toMexican women of this period.”It is our understanding that parents were advised about the content of the book and were offered an opportunity to request an alternative assignment or anabridged version of the book. Parents who remained dissatisfied could file anofficial complaint challenging the use of the book, which would have  triggered a review of the book’s literary and pedagogical value. That process never took place. The district’s failure to follow these procedures makes it doubly vulnerable tocharges that the removal was constitutionally impermissible, since the absence of areview process also reveals that the decision to remove the book was based solely on thecomplaint about its content, not a professional assessment of its educational merits. Thosewho object to the book are entitled to their view, but they have no right to have itreflected in school policies and practices.Parents have “no constitutional right to direct how a public school teachers their child.’” Parker v. Hurley , 514 F. 3d 87, 102 (1st Cir., 2008) As many courts have observed,public schools have an obligation to “administer school curricula responsive to theoverall educational needs of the community and its children.”  Leebaert v. Harrington ,332 F.3d 134, 141 (2d Cir., 2003). No parent has the right “to tell a public school whathis or her child will and will not be taught.” Id. Any other rule would put schools in theuntenable position of having “to cater a curriculum for each student whose parents hadgenuine moral disagreements with the school’s choice of subject matter.”  Brown v. Hot,Sexy and Safer Productions, Inc. , 68 F.#d 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 (10thCir. 1998);  Littlefield v. Forney Indep.School , 268 F.3d 275, 291 (5th Cir. 2001).Moreover, the views of parents who object to the book are not shared by all, and banningthe book infringes the First Amendment rights of other parents and their children.For your information, we enclose a link to the National Coalition Against Censorship’sGuide to the First Amendment in Schools, and in particular, Section IV, “Roles andResponsibilities in Promoting First Amendment Values at School.” We also suggest you refer to “The Students Right to Read,” a guideline established by theNational Council of Teachers of English, available online here: We strongly urge you to reconsider your ban on  Like Water for Chocolate . We urge youto stand by the principle that is so essential to individual freedom, democracy, and a goodeducation: the right to read, inquire, question and think for ourselves.If we can be of assistance in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact us.Sincerely,   Joan BertinExecutive DirectorNational Coalition Against CensorshipChris FinanPresidentAmerican Booksellers Foundation forFree ExpressionCharles BrownsteinExecutive DirectorComic Book Legal Defense FundJudith PlattDirector, Free Expression AdvocacyAssociation of American PublishersCc: Dr. Joshua Jensen, Deputy SuperintendentKim Eimers, Academic Services Officer
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