BCS board bans book from all district high schools

NO TRICKS: The Ellen Hopkins novel Tricks was the most banned book of the 2022-23 school year, according to advocacy group PEN America. It is now banned in Buncombe County high schools. Image courtesy of Simon and Schuster

What happens when five troubled teenagers fall into prostitution amid their quest for freedom, safety and love? Locally, at least, their story gets banned from all Buncombe County high schools after a successful appeal by one community member and three parents.

At its Feb. 8 meeting, the Buncombe County Board of Education voted unanimously to remove author Ellen Hopkins‘ fictional 2009 book, Tricks, which explores the aforementioned plot, as described by a Simon & Schuster’s summary.

Three other books under consideration — Hopkins’ Perfect, Patricia McCormick‘s Sold and Sarah Gruen‘s Water for Elephants — remain on county high school library shelves, based on recommendations from the Buncombe County Schools’ Media and Technology Advisory Committee.

The four books considered by the board were originally part of a group of 10 books challenged at Enka High School by the same group in October, according to district documents.

“We are following the letter of the law and following a very robust policy around media center and instructional materials review,” said board member Rob Elliot ahead of the vote.

In its review of Tricks, the district MTAC recommended removing the book because it didn’t provide a “balanced” portrayal of sex trafficking, according to its review.

“The committee’s opinion is that the book normalizes, if not glorifies, unhealthy sexual behavior among teens. The overall tone of the book was extremely dark and disturbing, without a balanced emotional perspective. The book also includes an excessive amount of explicit content, leading us to question its appropriateness for high school readers, especially without guidance,” the review stated.

In a summary of the appealers’ concerns, they argued the book’s “sexually explicit excerpts involving minors” were inappropriate for high school readers.

During public comment, Kim Poteat, who said she was one of the parents who requested the book be removed, detailed her problems with its availability to high school students.

“The book details graphic sex involving minors, explicit child rape and abuse, blatant drug abuse, underage alcohol consumption, graphic violence as well as adult and child prostitution. Due to the extreme graphic content, I will not read excerpts from the book. It is that bad. It does make me wonder if I can’t read the book aloud in public, what is it doing in a school library?”

While the initial school-level review of Tricks was not available as of press time, Poteat said during public comment that the Enka High’s MTAC review allowed Tricks to stay in the school collection because it exposes students to modern real-world social issues and is written in a poetic form, therefore strengthening students’ reading skills.

Poteat and several other public commenters at the Feb. 8 meeting disagreed with that analysis.

Tricks is pervasively vulgar and is not age appropriate for minors. It is too explicit and too graphic in nature. It is patently offensive. Tricks deals with very dark subjects that would be difficult for adults to process. So how can we expect our children to process this material at their young age in a healthy manner?” Poteat asked.

Tricks was banned 33 times during the 2022-23 school year, the most of any book nationwide, according to advocacy group PEN America.

The other books remain in the library collection for a variety of reasons, according to the district MTAC and the board.

Perfect, written in verse by Hopkins in 2011, presents its mature content in a way that could be applicable and beneficial to high school students and contains topics of high interest relevant for teenagers today, MTAC members wrote.

Sold, published in 2006, describes the experiences of a young girl sold into sexual slavery and was deemed a “touching and compelling read that offered a historical and cultural perspective on a relevant global issue” by the committee. It was banned 24 times last school year, ranking seventh on the PEN America list of banned books.

The committee decided that the overall literary merit of 2006’s Water for Elephants, a novel about circus employees during the Great Depression, outweighed its instances of mature content.

The board ensured that its decision on the four books in question would apply districtwide.

Board member Amanda Simpkins suggested that if a book was deemed inappropriate at a school-level MTAC, maybe that should hold true across the district as well. Applying school-level decisions districtwide would require a policy change, said Superintendent Rob Jackson.

Simpkins said the board should consider making that change through the appropriate process.

In other news

The board also unanimously passed two resolutions addressing issues it has  with state mandates.

The first relates to the state’s calendar law, passed in 2004, which requires school districts to start each school year no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and end the school year no later than the Friday closest to June 11.

The late start date causes all kinds of problems for school districts, including pushing end-of-semester exams for high schoolers until after the winter break. It also means high school calendars don’t align with community college counterparts, making dual enrollment difficult, according to the resolution’s language.  Additionally, the law limits flexibility in the calendar, complicating the scheduling of teacher workdays and makeup days, among other limitations, as noted in the resolution.

“It is well-documented through multiple studies that children will experience a phenomenon known as learning loss during breaks, which has a disproportionate impact on low-income children,” Jackson read from the resolution.

The board would prefer to maintain local control of the calendar.

The second resolution asks for an exception to the state law commonly referred to as the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” or “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The board, through its resolution, suggested that its suicide-risk screening process could legally be considered a “survey,” which parents must be notified of and give consent for administering, according to the new law.

The resolution seeks an exception that “permits schools to conduct a suicide-risk assessment without prior parental consent or notice, so long as notice and the results of such assessment are provided after the assessment is conducted.”

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4 thoughts on “BCS board bans book from all district high schools

  1. Lou

    Is there a bible in any of those libraries? I want it out. Immediately. Trash book full of fairy tales and fantasy.

  2. Bonnie Knox

    Take it from a retired high school English teacher: banning a book because of sexual content is the surest way to get millions of teenagers to read it.

  3. Bright

    Ditto to Lou’s comment above. The Bible has more sex and violence than any of the books being removed from any library. Remove it, too.

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