Principal Bans Discussion of 'All Boys Aren't Blue' | Scales on Censorship

A principal forbids students from talking about a challenged book; librarians question reading levels and defend unrestricted library access for children.

I’m a middle school librarian, and my son is a high school junior. We don’t live in Florida, where there has been so much outrage about All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, but my son and I have followed the story. He and some of his classmates were discussing the book during lunch. The principal walked by, heard them, and demanded that they stop the discussion. They are incensed and want to do something.
Good for your son and his classmates for wanting to ­discuss this important book. I hope they see that the principal violated their First Amendment rights by shutting down their discussion. It doesn’t sound like they were causing a disturbance.

I don’t know if there is a First Amendment attorney in your community, but have your son and his classmates look for an attorney who would write a letter to the ­principal on their behalf. There are attorneys who would do this pro bono. This may be enough to deter the principal from ­stopping students from discussing books, regardless of the title, in the future. Also, contact your local and state ACLU.

Let the group know that their voices matter as much as those opposing the book. Students in some cities have taken the First Amendment cause to the streets with marches and picket lines. If they wish to do this, make sure they check the local ordinance for protest marches. They may have to file an application, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

Encourage your son to start a banned books club. These are popping up all over the nation. I’m sure a local bookstore would offer space. If not, they could meet in a home, a local coffee shop, or the public library. They would need to check the public library meeting room policy. I suspect they will have to formally request a space for a regular meeting.

If these students use their voices, the principal may be very sorry he walked past their lunch table.

My school district administrators want to put reading levels on library books. They think that will protect them from potential censorship cases. We librarians have expressed our concern to the administration and board. What are our next steps?
These administrators are about to jump from the frying pan into the fire. This is a terrible practice, and it won’t solve censorship problems. It could increase the ­number of book challenges. We’ve seen this happen with ­computerized reading programs when excellent readers are led to books that have a high maturity level. A third grader reading at the eighth-grade reading level isn’t ready for books that most 13-year-olds read. They want what their peers are reading. Chronological age is the chief guiding factor in directing students to books that interest them.

Is there someone on the administrative team willing to talk with you? Show them several library books and note that they don’t bear a reading level label. There is sometimes an age range of interest (e.g., ages 8–12) on the book jacket. Explain that the only exceptions are controlled ­vocabulary books for new readers. Show them various ­review journals, which also don’t apply reading levels.

If this practice is implemented, there will probably be many parental complaints, and the practice will die. Let’s hope parents speak up. You might even nudge them.

I’m a children’s librarian in a fairly large public library system. A group of citizens are pushing the new director to issue a restricted library card for children. We have prided ourselves in granting unrestricted access to materials for all patrons. It appears our director is about to give in to the request.
This type of pressure from organized groups is cropping up across the nation. The director needs to refer to ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Manual for guidance. Labeling and restriction are forms of censorship.

The director should at least have a dialogue with the entire staff about this issue. Suggest a town hall–type meeting with the various communities the library serves. Ask users to weigh in. I suspect the director will see that the larger community doesn’t want a small group of people with loud voices dictating library rules and procedures.

Pat Scales is the former chair of ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. Send questions to

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