Students question why popular novel is removed from Gilbert school's curriculum

Posted at 8:22 PM, Mar 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-30 23:57:30-04

Williamsfield High School students are questioning why a popular award-winning novel, "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, was suddenly pulled from the high school English curriculum with no explanation.

"The teachers said that they were contacted around 3 p.m., 7 minutes past contract hour and told that they were no longer to use this book as part of school curriculum or allow it as independent reading novel on list," said Jaxon Washburn, a high school senior and co-editor of the school newspaper News from the Nation.

"It's a great novel, it's considered a contemporary classic," Washburn added.

The book, which had been turned into a movie, is set during a chaotic time in Afghanistan; during the fall of the monarchy and the rise of the Taliban.  It outlines a friendship between two boys.

James LaRue with the American Library Associations Office of Intellectual Freedom told ABC15 the book had been challenged six times by different districts. Most districts claimed it was because of "mature themes" such as a sexual assault storyline in the book.
Washburn said ironically the district was replacing the novel with the controversial "Of Mice and Men," which the American Library Association stated has been challenged 50-60 times by school districts – mostly because it is set in a historic time period when racial slurs were common.

"We call that censorship," LaRue said. "That is official government action to remove a book from availability to students. These kids, they're not 4 years old themselves they're in high school honors classes."

Washburn said "The Kite Runner" was a book that the AP tests had included questions about in the past as well.

"If the theme of rape is considered inappropriate for sophomore level students or high school students, then we might as well get rid of "To Kill a Mockingbird" and several other books that are in our curriculum right now," Washburn said. "We don't know if it's because of a rape or if it's because it covers a minority group or certain faith throughout the novel."

The Higley Unified School District sent us this statement:

“The Higley Unified School District does not ban books. We have an approved list of books for use in class created through the participation of parents and staff. If a book is not on the approved list for a specific grade level, there are protocols in accordance to board policy to submit the book for approval and the list gets updated. There is a committee of stakeholders that would make that decision. At this time, the Kite Runner is not on the list. The district makes every effort to select books for use in its classes that reflect community standards.”

The American Library Association wants to know if the community had any chance to provide input, or review the book before the school district decided to remove it from it's "approved reading list."  

ABC15 has also inquired about what protocols the district follows to ensure book approvals and removals, also why were teachers informed about the decision to remove it from the curriculum just a few days ago? We're still waiting to hear back from the district.

A spokesman with the State Department of Education explained that while curriculum decisions are up to local districts, students, teachers and parents can always show up at local school board meetings to voice their concerns or support.

The American Library Association plans to investigate the student concerns further.