If you love libraries, you might know that today marks the anniversary of an important decision upholding the First Amendment in schools.
In Board of Ed. v. Pico (1982), the plurality opinion stated that school libraries have “special characteristics” as providers of free access to information, and should be especially vigilant of upholding students’ First Amendment rights. Pico began when the Island Trees School District on Long Island banned a number of books, including Go Ask Alice, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and Richard Wright’s Black Boy, from its libraries, calling them “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and just plain filthy.” The Supreme Court ultimately found that for a school library to “prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion” is a violation of students’ First Amendment Rights.
Today, the very same rationales used to challenge books in New York are still being utilized to challenge books in school libraries and public libraries. NCAC’s Kids’ Right to Read project (KRRP) works on cases just like the Island Trees controversy every day. The Pico books themselves continue to come under fire. Go Ask Alice is frequently on the ALA’s lists of most-banned books. Both Black Boy and Slaughterhouse-Five have been challenged every few years since 1972, including this past fall in Guilford, NC.
Since the Supreme Court ruled in Pico that school libraries must be safe spaces for free inquiry, then books are inherently essential to a thorough education. Yet twenty-nine years after Pico, books are still disappearing from library shelves inside and outside schools. Luckily, KRRP is there to help support students like Steven Pico and school administrators like Robert Morrow, the superintendent who fought the removal, in their fight for the freedom to read.