At the intersection of a good read and good intentions stood one obstacle: the "F-word."
The controversy started with a parent’s simple request that a Delaware school district examine one of the book choices for the rising freshman class' summer reading list. A critically acclaimed young adult novel may not sound like cause for concern, but after some examination, the Cape Henlopen Board of Education decided the language was too strong for 13 to 14 year olds.
The district then voted in June to remove the book "The Miseducation of Cameron Post," by Emily M. Danforth, from the summer reading list.
The book is a coming of age story about Cameron Post, who loses her parents in a car crash at a young age, before realizing she is gay. Her conservative Aunt Ruth and old-fashioned grandmother act as her guardians. When they learn about her sexuality, they send her to a religious conversion camp in an effort to "cure" her.
The book has been celebrated in published reports in outlets like NPR, The Los Angeles Times, and Entertainment Weekly. It has been named to five best books lists and won the 2012 Montana Book Award and the 2012 Afterellen.com Visibility Award for Best Book.
Danforth’s debut novel was also a 2013 Blue Hen Book Award Nominee. Though not the winner, its status as one of the 5 nominees qualified it for the list of summer reading books for rising freshman in Cape Henlopen School district. There were ten books in all, including five nominees from 2013 and 2014.
But Danforth’s novel was the only one challenged and removed from the list.
Three days before a board meeting in June, parents challenged the book. An email was sent to the board asking members to read the book. Sargeant Spencer Brittingham, president of the board, said he found more than 100 instances of expletives in the book, which is almost 500 pages long.
For him, it was unacceptable.
“We don’t allow profanity in our schools. It is against our code of conduct and there is discipline for those actions,” Brittingham said. “I thought it would be appropriate to not have it in our books as well.”
A discussion about policy allowing parents to challenge materials was being held when board member Sandi Minard, who had obtained the book from a library, read aloud some pages from the book.
In those pages the "F-word" was used several times. The author of the book acknowledged the explicit language, but said it shouldn't overshadow the story itself.
“There certainly is profanity,” Danforth said. “[But] it would be very surprising to me [if] after you read my book your only reaction was to focus on the profanity."
Danforth was made aware of the board’s decision by a local fan who had read her book, and then tweeted at the author. She is aware there were objections made to passages from her book, but has not been told which passages specifically.
“You can’t reduce a 500 page novel to a few passages from that novel,” Danforth said.
The vote to remove the book from the summer reading list took place that night, which Board of Education Vice President Dr. Roni Posner says goes against policy.
“It was an illegal process to begin with,” Posner said. “We should never have been taking that vote in the first place.”
The policy gives a committee 20 school days to make a decision, but board member Jennifer Burton said it doesn’t apply.
“If we had waited and complied with the policy,” Burton said, “then we would have had children reading the book prior to the board’s decision.”
“In this particular instance, we thought time was of the essence,” Burton said.
The vote to remove the book was 6-1. Posner was the only board member to vote against the motion to remove the book from the summer reading list.
“It’s really a stunner to me that we did that,” Posner said.
Brittingham and Burton, however, believe they made the right decision.
“I’m not ready to gear our school towards profanity,” Brittingham said. “If I had to do it again, I would do the same vote.”
“We did not ban the book, we did not take it from the library,” Burton said. “If parents want their children to read it, that’s great, but we don’t need it to be a part of our materials.”
The board acted in what they believe is the best interest of the students. Danforth disagrees.
She said she has heard from readers, who told her “it would have been such a comfort to me and a learning experience to me and would have made me feel a sense of community if I had this book in high school.”
Afterellen.com posted a story about the ban on their site and sent the board of education an email criticizing their choice. They invited their readers to do the same.
The Coalition also reported the school board's decision as well as a response from the Kids' Right to Read Project warning the school board they could be liable for infringing the First Amendment rights of students.
Danforth is thankful of the support.
"I think it shows you how many readers have been passionately affected by this book."