Top admins ordered 2019 version of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ removed from North Medford HS after small band couldn’t get along
Medford School District Superintendent Bret Champion and his deputy made the decision to remove the graphic novel version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” from the district library collection in April after a committee of officials failed to couldn’t come to a consensus on what to do with the controversial book.
These new details were provided by school district attorney Thad Pauck, who released written responses to questions posed by the Oregon Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee and the State Section of the American Civil Liberties Union earlier this month.
The committee objected to the district’s decision to remove two copies of the graphic novel from the North Medford High School library after a single parent complained and requested its removal for all students.
“As a result of discussion at this meeting, two staff members recommended removal and at least one staff member did not recommend removal,” Pauck wrote of the meeting called to discuss the 2019 adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, which tells a story. in pictures about a totalitarian state in which the few remaining fertile women are forced to reproduce.
“As no consensus was reached, all information provided at the meeting was forwarded to the assistant superintendent and the superintendent for consideration for a final district decision,” Pauck wrote.
Pauck was referring to Champion and Jeanne Grazioli, the district’s assistant superintendent, saying they reviewed the same documents as the group – the graphic novel itself, the parent’s complaint, district policies and “other documents related”.
After learning of his involvement in the decision, the Mail Tribune requested an interview with Champion, which was refused. However, district spokeswoman Natalie Hurd responded via email about the book ban.
“We removed the graphic novel because, as previously stated, we found numerous images of nudity, sexual assault, and violence throughout the graphic novel. Thus, we determined that it did not meet the needs of the school or the needs of individual students,” Hurd wrote. “However, recognizing the importance of Atwood’s work, we ensured that students had access to the original novel in our collection.”
She added that students could find copies of the graphic novel at the Jackson County Public Library, which ordered extras in the days following the district’s decision.
Hurd declined to answer any questions posed by the newspaper for this story, including how the graphic novel entered the North Medford High School library in May 2019 and October 2021.
The more substantial statement released by Hurd was similar to one released by the district in April. Pauck’s responses to the Committee on Intellectual Freedom, however, vindicated the district’s decision in a different way.
“The ultimate decision to remove the book entirely, as opposed to restricting access, was not based on any political or religious grounds, but was made solely on the grounds that a reasonable person might find that the illustrations in the book are not appropriate or appropriate for all ages of high school students,” Pauck wrote.
The attorney said such a finding is similar to other school board policies requiring teachers to use edited versions of PG-13 or R-rated movies while teaching.
Pauck added that the decision to ban the 2019 version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” was made “notwithstanding the value of graphic literature in a general sense” and the group “discussed the value of retaining graphic novels in our collections. library” before the end of their meeting. .
Even with Pauck’s responses, Emily O’Neal, co-chair of the Intellectual Freedom Committee, said members of her group are still left with “ambiguity” and “uncertainty” about the ban and have more questions for the district.
“We need to have a meeting with our president of (the Oregon Library Association) and see what kind of support and next step she and the board want us to take,” O’Neil said. “At a minimum, what we want to do is… let people know what process was followed to remove this book and where the flaws were.”
Knowing these answers will help the committee, which regularly consults librarians and administrators about contested and banned materials in schools and libraries.
“I know the political part of the conversation might not be the most exciting, but it ultimately comes down to this,” O’Neal said. “What we can learn from this process is that there are gaps – and where those gaps exist, we can help close them so it doesn’t happen again next time.”
The committee not only hopes to help the district with its own policies; it encourages a conversation with relevant stakeholders about intellectual freedom itself.
“Let’s talk about it, what is the value of this title? What is the value of all book titles? O’Neal said. “How valuable is the ability to allow individuals in your school to think for themselves? And for them to decide which materials are appropriate for themselves – or for their parents to make that decision.
The conversation would also imply why intellectual freedom does not imply banning books.
“These are exactly the materials we need to talk about,” O’Neal said. “They are the ones who help us discover the world around us.”
This is true even if the depictions of the book’s plot are graphic, she said. Plus, she added, anyone picking up a copy of the alternate 2019 version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” might see a correlation between the world it depicts and the recent US Supreme Court ruling. States to leave the issue of abortion to the States.
“It’s hard to look at the Roe v. Wade decisions and not see an impact on women’s rights and on our own bodies,” O’Neal said. “It’s absolutely a theme in the graphic novel.”
Contact journalist Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.