Controversial book removed from Texas middle school after one parent complains

Tuesday, June 22, 1999

One of the most popular books at Aledo Middle School has been removed from the library, and parental consent is now required to remove the same book from the shelves at Aledo High School.

The Aledo, Texas, School Board voted 3-1 recently to restrict access to Go Ask Alice (author anonymous) after one parent complained about the content of the 1970s-era diary chronicling a teen-age girl's descent into sex and drugs.

“[Go Ask Alice] was one of our most popular books,” said Bob Harmon, Aledo Middle School principal. Harmon said that the process which ended with the school board's vote on June 14 has been long and tedious.

“Censoring books is a really difficult issue,” he said.

The banning was sparked by a lone parent who read the book and formally complained to Harmon. After the complaint was filed, the middle school's screening committee — consisting of one parent, one student and two teachers — read and discussed options for handling the situation. They decided to limit the book to middle-school children whose parents had given them permission to read it.

Harmon said that the committee felt there was value in the book and that it shouldn't be removed altogether. However, the parent who had complained initially was not satisfied with the screening committee's decision and decided to take the matter up with the school board.

“The school board disagreed with the screening committee,” board president Steve Reid said. “We saw no educational value [to] the book.”

Reid said that no one could show him that the book, which he describes as “vulgar and obscene,” had any redeeming qualities. Once the board has made a decision regarding removal of a book, there is no option of appeal, Reid said. “At this point, only a court could decide to change the decision,” he said.

The Aledo School Board also voted to require parental consent for Aledo High School students to check out the book.

Diana Philip, regional director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas' Northern Region, said that book-banning “sadly is not uncommon” in Texas. Last year, 55 books were banned in Texas public schools, up from 46 books banned the previous year, according to the Texas ACLU's Banned Book Report.

“Book-banning is censorship, and sometimes it takes a judge to remind school boards about First Amendment protections,” Philip said. “One person's view of offensive is another person's view of the real world.”

Philip said that books often are challenged because they contain profane language, sexual content, references to witches or supernatural content and/or discussion of racial issues. Other books that Texas school boards have banned include The Chocolate War, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Flowers for Algernon and various books by Judy Blume.

Philip said that unless people in the community want to fight the school board's decision, the ACLU doesn't get involved.

“People need to come forward and be outspoken,” she said.

Members of the Aledo community have begun contacting ACLU representatives, and according to Philip, it is only a matter of time before they decide whether to take their concerns to the school board.

“Court is our last resort,” she said.