Books removed from the seventh-grade book list for Signal Mountain Middle-High School were intended as high school selections, Executive Principal Shane Harwood said in a new statement to the Times Free Press.
On Sept. 4, parents received an email from a teacher saying two books — "All American Boys" and "Monster" — would be removed from the school's Finding Perspective book club list for seventh-graders as both "contain mature content that not every student will be comfortable reading."
Both books address police violence, life in prison and racial discrimination against African Americans.
"As a school, Signal Mountain Middle-High values diversity, inclusion and cultural awareness, and we work each day to enrich our students regarding how life experiences can affect our perspective," Harwood said by email. "The two books relating the African American experience are an essential part of our school curriculum at more mature grade levels. The decision to make those high school selections optional in the seventh-grade course was based on parent concerns related to profanity and mature content within the books. In our school we value the messages in the literary works, and they still remain an option for students at Signal Mountain Middle-High to study."
He continued to say in his statement that the campus is "sorry that the recent decision regarding the two books as options from a seventh-grade unit caused some to question the school's commitment to inclusion."
"We understand the importance of exposing students to texts such as these that deal with important topics that are bringing about change in our society, and we will continue to be intentional in providing our students with opportunities that help them to better understand the world around them."
At the Hamilton County Schools district office, officials said they were not part of the decision, as the book club is at the school level.
School board member Marco Perez, who represents the area, told the Times Free Press that he doesn't see the decision as one of negative intent.
"The teacher made the decision based on what she felt was appropriate to the students," Perez said, adding that he is personally reading the books as of Friday.
Parents took to the Times Free Press public Facebook page to respond to the decision after the news broke.
Jessica Martin said, "As a parent, I heavily disagreed with this choice. After speaking to her about it, it became clear that it wasn't fully her choice. In any case, my daughter will still be reading 'All American Boys' as previously planned and chosen by her (and many of her classmates)."
Ken Swarts said, "The language and content of the two books mentioned are totally inappropriate for school students. Certainly not of a moral content that I would want my children spending time on. The teacher should be applauded for stepping up and making the decision that was made."
Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, said she is no stranger to the two books being challenged at her office or successfully removed from school libraries and reading lists. Both titles were included on a list of notable books compiled by the ALA's Association for Library Service to Children — 'All American Boys' falls under grade levels nine to 12 and 'Monster' under grades seven to 12.
Stone, who has been with the association for 20 years, said since 2013 'Monster' has been publicly challenged eight times with one successful removal from a school library. The 1999 movie script-format fiction by Walter Dean Myers follows 16-year-old Steve Harmon, an African American teenager who is on trial for felony murder in the state of New York. He was later acquitted in the story.
'All American Boys', according to Caldwell-Stone, has been publicly challenged six times since 2016. The book is about two teenage boys — one black and one white — who experienced police violence in their hometown.
Caldwell-Stone said some of the challenges came from police departments who view the book as anti-police. Other complaints of the book address the book's explicit language and content.
"It is not a surprise that the books were challenged," she said of Signal Mountain. "If you look at our top 10 most challenged book list for the last few years, you'll find books that address diverse content, diverse characters like LGBTQ communities are the most often challenged."
After the Times Free Press' initial report on the two removed books, both parents and readers responded there was another book removed — "My Sister's Keeper." The 2004 novel follows the story of 13-year-old Anna Fitzgerald, who sues her parents when she discovers she is supposed to donate a kidney to her dying elder sister.
The district confirmed on Friday the book was also removed from the list, which the teacher announced on Sept. 7 by email to parents. The reasons cited were sexual situations and offensive language, district officials said.
According to the ALA, the book by Jodi Picoult was challenged and banned repeatedly. Caldwell-Stone told the Times Free Press that her office received at least one challenge.
The third book was not included in the original Times Free Press story because the book was removed from the list later than the first two, and days after the initial teacher email that the story was based on.
Contact Monique Brand at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592.