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Daily Action: Stop a Censorship Attempt by the CVUSD School Board

*Mike Dunn:
*John Andersen:
* Sandee Everett:
Betsy Connolly:
Pat Phelps:
(conservative board members are marked with an asterisk)

Sample Message Themes (do not copy and paste!):
Hi! I'm a concerned parent/citizen in ______________, and I'm writing to urge you and your fellow CVUSD trustees to follow the guidance of educational experts who have chosen works like Sherman Alexie's novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian for the English curriculum. Their judgment of the thematic and literary merits of a book as a whole, and not a board member's concerns about language or events taken out of context, must determine the suitability of that book for age-appropriate students in our schools.

Great works of literature, such as the National Book Award-winning Part-Time Indian, introduce our children to themes, ideas, events and experiences they've never explored. They enrich our lives -- and time after time, our legal system has determined that denying students those experiences because of "family values" objections is unacceptable. Numerous court decisions have recognized that the First Amendment does not allow banning materials from a school curriculum because of some community members' -- or board members' -- objections on "moral" grounds.

Censorship is a risk that is not likely to pay off for the board, either in the court of public opinion or in a court of law. Furthermore, banning Part-Time Indian or other novels would be an outrageous risk to our community's stature. Our schools in the Conejo Valley are recognized as some of the finest in California, and colleges nationwide recognize the quality of the education our high school students receive. That reputation must not be sacrificed in order to cater to the narrow values of a small, vocal segment of community members, or to satisfy a board member's personal feelings.

If individual parents have problems with any book in the curriculum, district policies already allow them to substitute an alternative text for their own children. It would be an enormous mistake for you to impose your own values on all the students of CVUSD.   I cannot encourage you strongly enough to reject censorship, and to trust the experts who have the proper training and experience to choose course materials for our children. Thank you!

Indivisible: Conejo’s action teams on the First Amendment and Education sprang into action this week in response to reports that conservative members of the Conejo Valley Unified School District board of trustees are considering banning one or more novels from the district’s English curriculum. On Wednesday, the board postponed plans to debate the issue during its next meeting, but it may do so during the meeting on June 27.

In the meantime, Indivisible: Conejo is encouraging activists to send emails to CVUSD board members -- particularly the conservative majority -- denouncing censorship and urging them to accept the advice of experts in choosing materials for the district’s curriculum. Please feel free to use the "Sample Message Themes" above as inspiration, but be sure to change the language to suit your own "voice." An original note that reflects your own concerns (and language) is far more effective than being part of a deluge of identical messages. One more thing: Activists are strongly urged to maintain a civil tone in these emails!

The current controversy began during the board’s June 6 meeting, with a brief discussion of Sherman Alexie’s novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – a National Book Award recipient that had been approved for inclusion in the curriculum by a committee of experts in the district. Part-Time Indian also has been among the books most frequently challenged in schools and libraries nationwide over the last decade – and the back-and-forth last week between board president Mike Dunn and new trustee Sandee Everett seems to have whetted local conservatives' appetite for taking it upon themselves to decide which books Conejo Valley students should be able to read.

Over the last week, the board has received numerous messages from an organized contingent calling for bans of Part-Time Indian as well as other novels that have been in the CVUSD curriculum for years: Snow Falling on CedarsThe Catcher in the Rye, and The Kite Runner (which Dunn previously tried to ban in 2012).

Indivisible: Conejo activists already have responded with Letters to the Editors of the Thousand Oaks Acorn and the Ventura County Star. Indivisible: Conejo will lead a protest before the next school board meeting, June 20 at the district offices at 1400 E. Janss Road, across from the Thousand Oaks Public Library. We will begin protesting outside at 4:30 p.m., before trustees go into a private session at 5 p.m.

If the board places this issue on its agenda for June 27, Indivisible: Conejo will protest again before that meeting. Activists will be encouraged to attend the public session that begins at 6 p.m., with hopes that a number of attendees will be willing to speak against censorship.