A Virginia school district has pulled copies of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” from classrooms and libraries while it weighs whether it should permanently ban the American classics because of the books’ use of racial slurs.

In response to a formal complaint from a parent, Accomack County Public Schools Superintendent Chris Holland said the district has appointed a committee to recommend whether the books should remain in the curriculum and stay in school libraries.

District policy calls for the formation of the committee – which can include a principal, teachers and parents – when a parent formally files a complaint.

The parent, Marie Rothstein-Williams, made an emotional plea at a school board meeting Nov. 15, saying the works had disturbed her teenage son, a biracial student at Nandua High School on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

“I’m not disputing this is great literature,” Rothstein-Williams said. “But there is so much racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can’t get past that, and right now we are a nation divided as it is.”

School libraries and curriculums are frequent culture-war battlegrounds, and it is common for parents to object to books that many consider classics but that also contain offensive language or mature themes.


Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is the book most often targeted for removal from school classrooms and libraries among the titles the American Library Association tracks.

“To Kill a Mockingbird,” the Harper Lee classic set in 1936 Alabama, is also high on the list of works that people seek to remove from schools. Both books liberally use a derogatory word for blacks.

A Montgomery County, Maryland, student in 2006 appealed to the school board to toss a lesson about the n-word that was meant to prepare students for reading “Mockingbird.”

A Fairfax County, Virginia, mother launched a campaign in 2013 to remove Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” from classrooms because its portrayal of an escaped slave included bestiality, a gang rape and an infant’s murder.

Parents also have objected to some modern children’s literature, such as the popular Harry Potter series, saying it promotes occultism.

James LaRue, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said he understands the challenge of teaching books laced with language that is deeply upsetting to some.

But he said schools should approach such works carefully instead of throwing them out. He said teachers can avoid having students read the works aloud, for example, and talk to them about the historical context in which they were written. Removing the books from classrooms and libraries is censorship, he said.

“America is still deeply uncomfortable with its racial history,” LaRue said. He said that hiding the books –- which many consider seminal works of American literature – amounts to “forgetting history.”

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