PEN America sent the following letter to members of the Dorchester School District 2 School Board in South Carolina regarding its response to a book-banning activist’s demand that 572 titles be removed from the district (only about 150 of the books were present in the schools).

Dear Members of the School Board of Dorchester School District Two:

I am writing to you on behalf of PEN America, the literary and free expression organization, to object to the lack of adherence to your district’s library materials policy – Policy IJL Library Materials Selection and Adoption – and the current review of books throughout your collection that was initiated because they were deemed “sexually explicit” by a single external challenger.

As a national organization advocating against the removal of books from schools based on narrow ideological grounds, we watched the video of the January 22, 2024 Board meeting with grave concern. 

As reported, in December 2023, Dorchester School District Two received an email identifying over 673 titles as “sexually explicit” books. The challenger stated that the list of books was compiled using and, two websites that have been known to be used to advance book censorship. Reporting suggests that between 140 and 170 of the titles are actually on district library shelves.  

Rather than follow established policy (Policy IJL) by asking the community member to file formal challenges on the books they were concerned about, during the January board meeting the Superintendent reported advising district media specialists to review the list of challenged books and “make a professional opinion of whether to take the books off the shelves.” When a board member made a motion to direct the Superintendent to return to established policies and follow the process for challenges, the motion failed 4-3. This effectively overrode the existing book challenge policy. 

Indeed, these actions by the Superintendent are in direct contravention of your existing policy  (most recently revised in May 2023). For one, your policy states that all book challengers ought to be a parent or guardian of a student in the school district. The particular challenger who led this effort is neither. Second, according to your policy, after an objection is raised, the challenger must “fill out the appropriate questionnaire.” It is our understanding that this step has not been followed.

It was already policy that the selection criteria for books purchased for the district’s libraries ensure that books are not of an obscene nature. The existence of this policy suggests the objector is likely mischaracterizing a vast swath of the books in your library collection — and again, raises concerns about whether this sweeping review was appropriately initiated.

We acknowledge the professional expertise of the district’s media specialists. However, by placing this review process now solely on media specialists, you risk taking educators away from the critical work they need to do to serve students in your district.  

At the same time this process reflects reviews that have been initiated in multiple districts that have led to decisions to remove scores of books from student access. We urge you to hold yourself and your district to the highest standards in terms of protecting the rights of students and parents, while supporting the professional practices and decisions of library professionals. 

There is ample opportunity for community input and discussion at every stage of your existing process. Your policies are robust. These should not be overridden to serve the interests of censorship, which is well-known to be a slippery slope. 

Thank you for your work for the students in your district and your support of the media specialists who diligently serve those students every single day.


Kasey Meehan 
Program Director
Freedom to Read Program, PEN America