Board of Ed v. Pico: 31 years of reading freely in school libraries

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.

About Blog of the National Coalition Against Censorship

Blogging Censorship is where National Coalition Against Censorship staff weigh in on the censorship issues on their minds.
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5 Responses to Board of Ed v. Pico: 31 years of reading freely in school libraries

  1. Dan Kleinman says:

    Okay, but why not include more information about Pico? Like the parties stipulating that pervasively vulgar books may be removed in an instant for educational unsuitability, or something like that. That us more about that, please.

  2. jake says:

    thanks i needed this for my homework

  3. Robert D. Morrow says:

    My older brother, Richard Morrow, (now deceased) was the Island Trees School Superintendent during this landmark case. I am seeking information about Steven Pico and would very much like to correspond with him to discuss my brother’s role in this event.
    If anyone knows how I can conatact Steven, plase let me know.
    My phone number is 209-244-5319 and email is
    Thank you.
    Robert D. Morrow, Ed.D.
    Profrssor Emeritus
    University of the Pacific

  4. Robert D. Morrow says:

    I am still seeking the whereabouts of Steven A. Pico and would like to discuss my older brother, Richard Morrow’s, role in the Island Trees book banning case.

  5. Dan Kleinman says:

    Robert D. Morrow, I am attempting to assist by sending a tweet to my 570 Twitter followers, and specifically to the ALA’s OIF that worked behind the scenes in the case, and linking to your first comment here on this NCAC blog post. Here is my tweet:

    Good luck.

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