In a narrow decision, the New Hanover County Board of Education voted 4-3 to temporarily limit access to the book “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi.
In late 2022, Katie Gates, a concerned parent, raised questions about the book assigned to her daughter in an AP Language and Composition class at Ashley High School in Wilmington. Following policy, the book was challenged through the school’s and the district Media and Technology Advisory Committees, who denied the challenge. Gates appealed the decisions from the committees. The decisions were appealed to the Board of Education, who conducted a special hearing last week.
The hearing, which was quasi-judicial had three grounds for possible restriction or removal. That the book is educationally unsuitable, pervasively vulgar, or inappropriate to the age, maturity, or grade level of the students.
During the hearing, Gates argued that the book was educationally unsuitable and failed to adhere to Board of Education Policy 3200. She stated to the Carolina Journal, “My goal is to present objective proof that the book is educationally unsuitable and is unsound as a nonfiction book.”
Part of her argument included proof of the author’s inaccurate, misconstrued, and unsupported source material. On page 214 of “Stamped” in discussing Justice Clarence Thomas the authors state:
“Stamped” cites no sources for those claims, according to Justice Thomas’ memoir, it was not activism that got him into school; rather, it was his hard work as a student that got him into college. Thomas’ activism started while in college, not prior to college (My Grandfather’s Son: 46).
Gates further commented on the author, saying, “His intent to formulate new definitions to suit his work is based on the ideology and the artificial construct that you are either an oppressor or you’re being oppressed. This is a false ideology that fosters a victim mindset with no real solutions only division and distrust.”
In contrast to the remarks made by several board members who expressed disdain to “ban books,” Gates clarified that she did not seek the complete removal of the book from the entire district. She explained, “I asked the school board to have that book removed from the classrooms in New Hanover County and to maintain it in the library.” She emphasized, “We have to maintain our First Amendment right of freedom of speech and students should have the option of accessing this book in the library.”
Another concern raised by Gates pertains to the questionable absence of the book “Stamped” from the Advanced Placement Program syllabus. This syllabus was submitted to the College Board for course approval and AP designation by teacher Kelli Kidwell. In the syllabus provided to Gates’ daughter, “Stamped” was designated as the “main text” for the course content.
Gates is optimistic about recent developments in the General Assembly, specifically the passage of the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” (S.B. 49), which allows parents a more transparent perspective on classroom materials. “We are in a great position as parents right now because in North Carolina we have the option to opt our children out of any instructional or supplementary material in the classroom.”
For parents that are concerned about materials in their child’s classroom, Gates recommends an opt-out. “The best solution that we have as parents, as We the People, is to opt our kids out of books en mass because that beats the activist teacher at their own game.”
The 4-3 decision temporarily removes the book on the basis of educational unsuitability from classrooms until board policies can be revised and the book be properly scrutinized by existing school district protocols that had been circumvented and to ensure the inclusion of balanced materials in the classroom.
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