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SIGN NOW: Demand Burbank Schools Reinstate Banned Books

Collage of book covers: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Cay, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

To the Burbank Unified School District,

We the undersigned object to the news that several books dealing with the subject of race in America—Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Theodore Taylor’s The Cay, and Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry—have been temporarily banned within Burbank public school classes, while the Board determines whether or not to ban them entirely. We call upon the district to lift the temporary ban and allow these books to be taught in Burbank classrooms.

Each of the books in question deal with difficult subject matter from our country’s complicated and painful history, including systemic racism. In a year when we have seen a national movement against systemic racial injustice, it is crucial to bring these subjects into the classroom with care and sensitivity, which teachers are well-equipped to do. Blocking engagement with these important books is also avoiding the important role that schools can and should play in providing context for why these books inspire and challenge us still today.

We understand that this ban may have been proposed with good intentions. But banning books is not the answer. Informed guidance from trained educators would allow students to learn about their world and themselves from these book’s challenging stories and ideas in a supported space.

Removing the books—especially before any proper review has been conducted—undermines the expertise of the district’s educators, robs students of an important educational opportunity, and sets a troubling precedent that undermines the ability of educators, students, and families to make decisions for themselves.

We urge you to recognize the literary and educational merit of these books, and to reject banning them.

We hope that Burbank officials will recognize that book banning is a tactic that ultimately does a great disservice to our educators, our communities, and most importantly to our children.

Sign Your Name

Show your opposition to book banning, and sign the petition to send a message to the Burbank Unified School District to immediately reinstate these books.

144 of 500 signatures

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Background Information

Last month, the Burbank Unified School Board “firmly requested” that teachers stop teaching four books: Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Theodore Taylor’s The Cay, and Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, following complaints from a small number of parents. PEN America’s Children’s and Young Adult Books Committee co-signed a letter from the National Coalition Against Censorship urging the district to reinstate the books. The district responded by affirming the ban.

As an organization devoted to the freedom to read, we’re shocked by the school board’s decision. We’re urging the Board to allow these books to be taught, and to reject calls to ban them from their schools’ curriculum.

The Burbank school district has over 15,000 students, and we believe that each of them deserves the opportunity to read and grapple with these literary classics.

On September 3 of this year, the Curriculum and Instruction Subcommittee of the Burbank Unified School District’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee noted that it was considering recommending that several books be removed from the school curriculum, or that teaching of the books be improved. The subcommittee specifically identified Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Theodore Taylor’s The Cay, and Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. 

Following this announcement, the school board decided that no teacher could use these books while the subcommittee considered their decision. The Board made this decision even though the school district’s administrative regulations state that books challenged by community members may remain in use while a review is pending.

This decision appears to be driven by complaints from a small group of parents who object to these books. Yet, Burbank parents already have the option to request their child be excused from reading the concerning material.

School district officials should be providing educators with the resources they need to teach these books responsibly and effectively. Instead, Burbank’s school district is coming dangerously close to rubber-stamping a book ban that will affect what more than 15,000 students can read in class.

As we speak, a specially assembled review committee is deliberating whether to recommend that these books be banned, or allowed. Meanwhile, district officials are still prohibiting teachers from using these books in their classrooms, even as the semester continues.