March 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Childproofed: When Your School Has Inflexible Filters | Scales on Censorship

A parent of a middle schooler has complained that her son can’t complete a social studies assignment because our district’s computers have such strict Internet filters. The boy’s father lost his job, and the family can’t afford to have a home computer—so the student depends on ours to complete many of his assignments. What should I do?

Unfortunately, strict Internet filtering is the reality in many schools. Check your district’s Internet Use Policy and make sure there’s a provision to unblock sites that students may need. Perhaps you could meet with other teachers and see which sites kids will need to complete their upcoming assignments. Then ask the IT person to unblock them in advance.

My school district is adamant that our students must meet the Common Core standards for reading and literature. I’m especially concerned about the “Production and Distribution of Writing” standard, which requires kids to “Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others.” Our school’s computers are heavily filtered, and the district’s policy doesn’t allow students to use email or social media during the school day.

Schedule a meeting with those who have the power to change the Robert Cormier Censorship bookpolicy, including members of the IT department. Point out that this particular standard is impossible for kids to meet because the district’s current policy is so strict. Perhaps the IT department can come up with a solution. It’s also important to check your state’s privacy policy. Perhaps student writing should only be posted with a student’s first name or a unique screen name. You might also want to consider asking your district to subscribe to SchoolTube, which is a site where students can share their work.

One of our high school students is doing his senior project on Robert Cormier. He’s especially interested in exploring why many of Cormier’s novels were often censored. As part of the research, the student is required to use books, periodicals, newspapers, and websites. We have online access to some magazines and newspapers, but they don’t date back to when Cormier’s works were first challenged. I’ve done a quick search for online resources, but many of the sites that deal with censorship are blocked in our district. Any suggestions?

There’s a book about Cormier’s work in the “Authors of Banned Books” series that’s called, Robert Cormier: Banned, Challenged, and Censored (Enslow, 2008). If you check its chapter notes, you’ll find many valuable resources, including the names of websites with their URLs. If your school library doesn’t own this series, the local public library may. Consider getting it through interlibrary loan if you can’t purchase it by the time the student needs to complete his research. I’m sure that the public library can supply almost anything the student needs—make sure he has a public library card!

popularity papers cover imageI’m an elementary school librarian. Recently, our principal asked me to remove the entire “The Popularity Papers” series from our collection after a parent complained about it. Our girls—and even some of the boys—really love these books. The fact that one of its main characters has two dads has never been an issue until the parent complained. When I asked our principal if he wanted me to remove the series because of the gay parents, he replied, “Yes, we can’t support that.” I haven’t removed the books. What should I do?

Does your district have a Materials Reconsideration Policy that deals with specific challenges? If it does, review the policy with your principal and the parent. Let them know that following a proper procedure is the most professional way of handling a challenge. The courts have already said that school administrators can’t pull a library book based on their “personal opinion or bias.” Point to the case in Davis County, UT, where the school district removed Patricia Polacco’s In Our Mothers’ House (Philomel, 2009) from its shelves. Parents who wanted their kids to have access to the book sued the district. The school board has reinstated the book, but the court case isn’t settled. If you don’t have a policy, now is the time to develop one.

Pat Scales is chair of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. You can send your questions or comments on censorship to her at

Pat Scales About Pat Scales

Pat Scales is the former chair of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. You can send your questions or comments on censorship to her at

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