This controversy over books…..nothing new.

We’re Zooming with the Dawg this Friday at 10—hope to see you there.  My partner, Katie Payne, will be joining me as we discuss the controversy over removing books from the library.  In fact this will be the subject of all of the Daily Dawgs this week.  Zooming with the Dawg is free to all Loyal Daily Dawg subscribers: see you Friday!

What happened in Island Trees, New York in 1976 may sound eerily familiar and current.  A group of school board members attended a conference of a politically conservative group of New York parents. There they received a list of books that some described as “improper fare for school students.”  The board then gave the superintendent an “unofficial direction” to have any of the books that were on the list removed from the school library and delivered to the board members for review. 

The superintendent responded to this by reminding the board that the district had a policy “designed expressly to handle such problems.”  It called for the superintendent to appoint a committee to review the books and make a recommendation.  The superintendent expressed support for the existing policy, noting that “I think it can be followed quietly and in such a way as to reduce, perhaps avoid, the public furor which has always attended such issues in the past.” 

Nope. The board wanted the books pulled.  The “public furor” predicted by the superintendent came to pass, and it took the matter all the way to the Supreme Court.

It turns out there was a committee review, but the members were appointed by the board, not the superintendent.  The committee consisted of four parents and four staff members.  Here is the recommendation of the committee for each of the 11 books on the list:

Slaughter House Five, by Kurt Vonnegut: RETAIN, BUT REQUIRE PARENT APPROVAL.

The Naked Ape, by Desmond Morris: REMOVE.

Down These Mean Streets, by Piri Thomas: REMOVE.

Best Short Stories of Negro Writers, edited by Langston Hughes: RETAIN.

Go Ask Alice, Anonymous: RETAIN.

Laughing Boy, by Oliver LaFarge: RETAIN.

Black Boy, by Richard Wright: RETAIN.

A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But a Sandwich, by Alice Childress: NO CONSENSUS.

Soul on Ice, by Eldridge Cleaver: NO CONSENSUS.

A Reader for Writers edited by Jerome Archer: NO CONSENSUS.

The Fixer by Bernard Malamud. RETAIN.

Just as the board ignored the superintendent’s recommendation, it also rejected the committee’s decision. The board was OK with one book: Laughing Boy, and permitted Black Boy to be available with parental approval. The other nine were to be removed.

Four high school students and one junior high student sued, alleging that the board had ordered removal of books “because particular passages in the books offended their social, political and moral tastes and not because the books, taken as a whole, were lacking in educational value.”  The students lost at the district court level; won at the Circuit Court level; and at the Supreme Court….well….it got complicated there.

That’s the background to the only SCOTUS decision directly addressing the authority of school officials to remove books from a school library.  It’s Board of Education of Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico, 102 S.Ct. 2799 (1982). 

I am going to devote all of the Daily Dawg entries for this week to this issue. This means that tomorrow’s entry will not be “Toolbox Tuesday” as it normally is. We will resume with Toolbox Tuesday, covering special education discipline, next week.   So tomorrow I’ll tell you about the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Island Trees case.  Wednesday we’ll look at a later case generated by our neighbors to the east in Louisiana decided by the 5th  Circuit. Thursday we’ll take a look at a case from the 11th Circuit.  And Friday we’ll wrap up this discussion.


Got a question or comment for the Dawg?  Let me hear from you at

Tomorrow: The Pico case goes to the Supreme Court.