Board of Education Votes to Retain Challenged Reading Material

The decision was fueled by a review committee’s recommendation

January 19, 2023


Kay Copeland

Following review of “No Fear Shakespeare – Romeo & Juliet,” the Board unanimously voted to retain the challenged content.

The Wentzville School District Board of Education has shown that they are not afraid to ban literature. They did so on the largest scale last year with a vote to not retain eight pieces of challenged material, most notable being “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison. Following a lawsuit brought on by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the National ACLU, the WSD reversed their decision for one of the eight banned books. “The Bluest Eye” was allowed back on district shelves a month later, but this was merely the beginning of book bans in the WSD. 

This instance was senior Shane McMullen’s first experience with banned books – something he had never imagined to witness in his own district.

“Wentzville is located in a part of Missouri that has a lot of people who may agree with these sorts of policies,” McMullen said. “I think book bans will continue to happen. But there will hopefully always be people who speak out against this and strive for change.”

Up until now in the 2022-23 academic year, the Wentzville BOE has weighed in for only one other challenged piece of literature earlier in September, according to BoardDocs. The committee assigned to review this book, titled “Flamer” by Mike Curato, recommended the district to retain by a vote of 6-2 with one member voting to retain with restrictions. Though when time came for the Board to vote, an overwhelming majority jumped on a motion to not retain “Flamer.” One Board member cited the new Missouri Senate Bill 775 as reason to not retain, stating, “To retain this book could put district staff at risk of violating this new law, which is a criminal offense.” 

Junior Jacob Kiem sees both sides of the debate. He agrees that the Missouri SB is helpful in some areas, while also ascertaining that book banning is often not the right choice to make.

“When it comes to middle school and elementary, I can understand why certain books are removed, because I wouldn’t want my kid being confused at an early age. It’s okay to have these conversations, but it should be something the parent has the option to converse about.” Kiem says. “I see age-restricting as something responsible, but banning a book outright is absolutely unacceptable.”

The Wentzville School District has put more than 200 titles under investigation since the passing of Missouri SB 775. Any person affiliated with either a public or private school who knowingly “provides, assigns, supplies, distributes, loans or coerces” a student with “explicit sexual material” will face legal consequences up to a class A misdemeanor if found guilty.

The book currently in question? “No Fear Shakespeare – Romeo & Juliet,” which is essentially the original story translated into modern English. This piece of challenged material proves unsurprisingly ironic as “Romeo & Juliet” is required reading in the WSD, also knowing that many English teachers use modern translations in class to aid students’ comprehension. Additionally, this particular edition was published by SparkNotes, the academic study guide website.

The WSD Board of Education unanimously voted to retain “No Fear Shakespeare – Romeo & Juliet” at a meeting on Thursday, Jan. 19. No Board members brought forth any discussion on the matter. 

The Challenged Materials Review Committee assigned to “No Fear Shakespeare – Romeo & Juliet” almost unanimously recommended for the Board to retain. One committee member wrote in support of retaining, “[The book] allows young adults to be able to connect with famous literature and authors of the past by having it make more sense to them.” They continue, “The questioned passages are nothing that kids of this age have not heard or been exposed to.”

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