Accomack County group protests temporary ban on classic novels

ACCOMAC, Va. (WAVY) – Students, parents and community members gathered outside of the Accomack County courthouse on Friday night, protesting the school district’s temporary ban on two classic American novels.

10 On Your Side reported earlier this week that “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” were pulled from bookshelves after a complaint was filed. During a November school board meeting, a parent expressed concerns about the novels’ use of offensive racial slurs.

But during Friday’s demonstration, attendees argued that censorship can be a slippery slope, especially when it comes to literature.

“If we pull these two books, what’s going to be next?” asked local historian Kentoya Downing-Garcia.

“They’re gonna burn them next!” someone from the crowd shouted.

Charles Knitter, a parent who attended Accomack County Public Schools, organized the gathering over Facebook.

“I want to start a conversation,” he told 10 On Your Side. “It’s just a terrible injustice to the students.”

Knitter stated that both novels condemn racism.

High school student Sadye Saunders said that her teacher made sure to convey that message when the books were read in her class last year.

“I felt they were pretty influential books,” she said. “They were good at opening eyes at what really took place.”

The junior said she launched a petition to keep the books in the county’s schools. During her lunch period, she collected more than 170 student signatures before her principal reportedly told her to stop.

“It had to be off school property,” she said.

Many attendees signed the petition during the demonstration, hoping it will play a role in the final determination.

According to the superintendent, the books will be reviewed by a committee, which is standard procedure when a complaint is filed under the “KLB” policy. That committee will then make a recommendation.

Another group, aimed at changing the manner in which school board members are selected, wants to see that procedure change.

The Accomack County School Board Election Committee sent a statement to 10 On Your Side which reads, in part:

The issue that has arisen recently regarding banning books in Accomack County could have been avoided by having better thought out school board policies in place. The existing policy causes any complaint directed toward learning resources (even by one parent) to trigger the immediate removal of the learning resource, interrupting the learning process for all students, until the resources can be reviewed by committee. There is no timeframe specified, potentially prolonging any resolution.

Members of the committee attended Friday’s demonstration.

Some people brought signs featuring quotes from the novels.

One poster, from “To Kill a Mockingbird’s” Atticus Finch, read: “There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.”

Messages sent to current school board members have not been returned. The superintendent did not return calls on Friday. A school board meeting is set for December 6.