California’s Burbank Unified School District has halted the teaching of five classic novels, including Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” in response to concerns over racism raised by parents.
The restriction also applies to Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” Theodore Taylor’s “The Cay,” and Mildred D. Taylor’s “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.” The move comes after allegations of potential harm to the district’s approximately 400 Black students.
These texts have historically been central to middle and high school English curriculums in Burbank. Carmenita Helligar, a parent, revealed an incident where racial slurs learned from “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” were used to target her daughter. She stated, “My daughter was literally traumatized. These books are problematic … you can’t even protect your child from the hurt that she’s going through.”
Nadra Ostrom, another concerned parent, criticized the portrayals of Black people in these novels, suggesting they are largely from a white perspective. “There’s no counter-narrative to this Black person dealing with racism and a white person saving them,” she noted.
However, various teachers, organizations, and students have defended the novels, emphasizing their value in catalyzing discussions about contemporary racism. The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and PEN America have both appealed to the district to reconsider the ban.
“Each of the books in question deal with difficult subject matter from our country’s complicated and painful history, including systemic racism,” according to PEN America’s petition. Similarly, Sungjoo Yoon, a Burbank High School sophomore, initiated a Change.org campaign against the “ban on antiracist books,” arguing that these texts illuminate the roots of racism, fostering the education of anti-racist students.
A review committee will submit their report to the superintendent by November 13, following which an appealable decision will be made.