Is Chicago Public Schools banning the popular graphic novel “Persepolis” from its schools’ libraries and classrooms?
Reports began circulating Thursday that officials in the nation’s third-largest school district were directing the 2000 graphic novel, penned by Marjane Satrapi, to be removed from the libraries and classrooms of at least one school in the district.
CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett explained Friday afternoon, via a statement reported by CBS Chicago, that the district has found the “graphic language and images” of the text — which is included in the district’s seventh graders’ Literacy Content Framework — inappropriate for students of that age. She also denied that the book was ordered removed from the district’s school libraries and said the book could be appropriate for students in eighth grade and older but, in the mean time, they have been “temporarily recalled” from classroom libraries and district curricula.
She added, according to DNAinfo Chicago, “We are not banning this book from our schools.”
Earlier, per a blog post by former public school teacher and education blogger Fred Klonsky, the principal at Lane Tech College Prep High School reported in an e-mail to the school’s staff that he was visited by an instructional support leader for his school’s network on Wednesday and was told that he had been directed to remove all copies of the book from the school. The directive was reportedly handed down during a Monday meeting.
“I was not provided a reason for the collection of ‘Persepolis,'” the principal wrote in the e-mail.
According to DNAinfo, the reports had inspired a protest, scheduled to take place between 3 and 4 p.m. Friday at Western Avenue and Addison Street.
The Chicago Teachers Union issued a statement Friday saying they were “surprised” by the reports and noted “the only place we’ve heard of this book being banned is in Iran.”
“We understand why the district would be afraid of a book like this– at a time when they are closing schools–because it’s about questioning authority, class structures, racism and gender issues, the union’s financial secretary Kristine Mayle wrote in the statement. “There’s even a part in the book where they are talking about blocking access to education.”
Satrapi’s autobiographical novel tells the story of her childhood years living in Iran following the Islamic Revolution. It has won numerous awards and was adapted into an Oscar-nominated animated film in 2007.
The Paris-based author herself told the Chicago Tribune Friday that she felt the district’s explanation concerning an illustration of a torture scene in the novel in particular was “a false argument.”
“It’s shameful,” Satrapi told the paper. “I cannot believe something like this can happen in the United States of America.”
The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom has filed a FOIA request for all materials related to CPS’ “Persepolis” action and expressed “deep concerns” with the district’s decision:
“As an institution of democracy and learning, CPS has a responsibility to actively model and practice the ideals of free speech, free thought, and access to information at the heart of our democracy,” the ALA’s Barbara Jones wrote in a letter addressed to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Byrd-Bennett and the Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale Friday.