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CMS rescinds its ban on ‘Banned Books Week’ activities

These are some of the books being challenged in Charlotte-area schools.
These are some of the books being challenged in Charlotte-area schools.

The American Library Association marks Banned Books Week next week — but it’s already stirring up controversy and confusion in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

The library association uses the week to celebrate freedom to read and to talk about attempts to censor books. But at a time when parents’ rights groups across the country are asking that books be removed or restricted, CMS Communications Chief Shayla Cannady sent mixed messages to schools about how to handle the observation.

Cannady sent a memo to principals Friday asking them to cancel all events and messages associated with Banned Books Week, adding that such activities could violate North Carolina's new parents' bill of rights.

A few hours later, after schools had dismissed, Cannady emailed principals saying it's up to them to decide how to handle it, adding that "it is not a violation or in any way associated with Parents Bill of Rights."

Here's the first message to principals, sent early Friday afternoon:

It has come to our attention that some schools have planned events next week October 1-7, to mark the American Library Association’s “Banned Book Week.” If this is the case, all principals are requested to cancel all events and messaging associated with this observance.

“Banned Book Week” is not aligned with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools academic curriculum or our pillars of excellence. It is not something we teach in our classrooms or as supplementary material for out of school learning.

Please do not (send) out any communication on “Banned Book Week” or use school resources to promote or communicate about this observance. This includes but is not limited to daily announcements on the loudspeaker, visuals on screens, bulletin board displays, book displays in the media center or in classrooms.  Additionally, please do not hold any book readings or offer suggestions for resources for staff and students.

Please be sure to communicate this to all teachers and staff. Under the Parents’ Bill of Rights, any attempts to share material in relation to Banned Book Week could be seen as a violation of the measure. 

Thank you for your cooperation.

Here's the follow-up, sent shortly before 6 p.m. Friday. CMS and others shared it with WFAE on Saturday morning.

We have received several inquiries about whether the information shared earlier about Banned Book Week was mandatory for distribution. 

The original message shared by the Communications Division was shared in response to several principal requests about the observance. The information shared was for building-level administrators to use, if needed.

We are not taking a position on banned book week as it is a site-based decision. It is not a violation or in any way associated with Parents Bill of Rights.

It was never clear how Banned Books Week events might violate Senate Bill 49, which was voted into law in August. The 12-page bill enumerates several requirements for public schools to encourage parent involvement, including creating processes for parents to review and challenge all textbooks, library books and instructional material.

CMS board member Jennifer De La Jara says she tried to call Superintendent Crystal Hill Friday after learning about the first message. It was not immediately clear whether other board members also raised questions or how the reversal played out.

Groups that have recently challenged books in North Carolina include Moms for Liberty, Mama Bears of Catawba County and Pavement Education Project, based in Wake County. They have asked that books containing profanity, sexual content and other material they deem offensive be removed from libraries or restricted to students whose parents have consented.

The American Library Association itself has come under fire by some who say it’s defending inappropriate books. Colleen Miller of the Pavement Education Project told WFAE on Friday that the association’s leaders are engaged in “promotion of the LGBTQ ideology and other Marxist theories.”

The library association could not be reached for comment Friday evening.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.