More than one week after the Guilford County Board of Education heard a challenge to the book Salvage the Bones, the board gathered once again on Thursday, this time to hear a challenge to a different book.
On Thursday afternoon, parent Jim Morris brought his challenge of Life is Funny by ER Frank to the school board after Northern Guilford High School’s media and technology advisory committee voted to retain the book in the school’s library earlier this year.
Like the hearing that took place on Nov. 29, appealing the advisory committee’s decision to the school board is the last level for a challenge of this type.
As in the vote that took place for the Salvage the Bones challenge, a majority of the school board members present voted to retain Life is Funny in schools. All of the board members, except for Linda Welborn of District 4, voted to retain the book. Board members Khem Irby (District 6) and Anita Sharpe (District 2) were absent from the meeting. District 3’s seat was also vacant because Pat Tillman, who up until recently held that seat, is now on the Guilford County Board of Commissioners.
Morris, who attended the special board meeting during his lunch break, said that he took issue with Life is Funny because of a graphic sex scene that takes place in one part of the book. The novel, unlike Salvage the Bones, which was assigned in an AP English curriculum earlier this year, is just part of Northern Guilford High School’s library.
During his comments, Morris said that not every student that has access to the high school’s library is 18 years old, with most of the students being minors. That being said, he felt that the graphic sex scene was inappropriate for a majority of the students at the school.
Life is Funny was published in 2002 and follows the lives of 11 diverse teenagers who live in Brooklyn.
As stated during the Nov. 29 meeting, the reason for removing a book from a school’s curriculum or library must be constitutional. For that to be the case, the book must be educationally unsuitable, pervasively vulgar or be inappropriate for the age, maturity or grade level of the students.
In the end, many of the school board members argued that despite the book’s inclusion of the sex scene, the book had educational merit because of its diverse storytelling.
Vice-chair Winston McGregor also noted that the book had only been checked out three times since it was introduced into Northern’s library —- once in 2013, 2016 and in 2022. Since the book was checked out this year, it has not been returned. Morris joked that he bought his own copy and that he wasn’t the one that was keeping the library’s copy.
Morris also admitted that his goal wasn’t to ban the book from the school outright. Instead, he wanted there to be a list of “questionable” books where parents would have to sign to opt in to allow their kids to read the books on that list. However, due to the school district’s policy, challenges to books at the school board level result in either removal or retention of the book.
Prior to voting to retain the book in Northern Guilford’s library, School Board Member Linda Welborn made a substitute motion to keep Life is Funny but to implement a rating system for all books in school libraries that would make it obvious to parents and students what the maturity level of each book is, much like with films. To that, legal counsel Elizabeth Troutman suggested that the board look into an already existing system that is determined by an independent entity. However, Welborn’s motion, which was seconded by District 5 representative Deborah Napper, failed.
As reported by TCB in the past, the two book challenges that took place this year —- both originating from Northern Guilford High School —- are the first challenges the school district has seen in years.
Still, other school districts around the country have faced a swath of challenges in recent years, many of them spurred by vehement opposition to critical race theory and LGBTQ+ narratives.
According to an April report by PEN America, a literary and free expression advocacy organization, school districts in 26 states banned or opened investigations into more than 1,100 books from July 2021 to March 2022.
“Over the past nine months, the scope of such censorship has expanded rapidly,” the report states.
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