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Virginia school board unanimously rejects mother’s request to pull literary American classics

AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian

The Accomack County Public School board voted unanimously Tuesday to immediately — and permanently — reinstate American literary classics "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," which were briefly pulled from the shelves in November when a parent complained about the racial slurs contained in the books.

During a school board meeting last month, one parent of a high schooler expressed concern about the novels' use of racial language. She argued the language within the classics gave the impression that the school was "validating that these words are acceptable."

The mother said the racial epithets used in the books leaves a negative psychological impact on high schoolers. "There is other literature they can use," she said at the time.

It is important to note, though, that despite the strong language, both "Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain and "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee are stories of reconciliation and are historical anecdotes that tackle issues of race relations.

Several Accomack residents took a stand against the parent who requested the books be pulled in November, and last week, several students, parents and local community members gathered outside the county courthouse to protest the school system's censorship.

"These novels are treasures of American literature and inspirational, timeless stories of conscience and bravery," Dr. Ronnie E. Holden, chairman of the Accomack County school board, told WAVY-TV of the decision to reinstate the classics. "We agree that some of the language used is offensive and hurtful. Fortunately, Accomack County's excellent teachers and media center specialists have a wonderful talent for conveying the bigger meanings and messages of literature."

The board also determined Tuesday evening to form a new committee that will re-examine the school system's current policy regarding what to do with books after a complaint is filed. As it stands, the schools are mandated to pull any book in question out of circulation should a complaint arise. Holden told the local outlet that an updated policy would allow the superintendent to exercise discretion on the matter, allowing him or her to keep the novels on the shelves while they are reviewed.

Chris Holland, superintendent for Accomack County Schools, said the parent who first filed the complaint never requested the books be banned, per se, but wanted to see an expanded library of options for students.

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