The Cape Henlopen School Board, which represents students living in the LGBT-friendly resort towns of Rehoboth Beach, Lewes and Milton, last week abolished a recommended summer reading list after a controversy over a lesbian-themed book.
The board in June removed that book, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” by Emily Danforth, which tells the story of a teenage girl from Montana who loses her parents in an auto accident and moves in with an “old-fashioned” grandmother and conservative aunt. When they learn she is a lesbian they send her to a religious conversion camp.
Although the board voted not to use the entire suggested book list, called the “Blue Hen List,” provided by the Delaware Library system, the vote last week restored “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” to the summer reading list and upheld the reading and essay writing requirements of both college prep students and honor students.
At issue was The Blue Hen List, which contains books recommended for summer reading by state librarians for young adults aged 14-18. Ten books were recommended, but only Danforth’s book was removed from the list on June 12 by a vote of 6-1, with lesbian board member Roni Posner voting against the action.
In Delaware, incoming high school freshmen are required to read at least one book and write an essay during the summer to qualify for college preparatory courses, and to read and report on at least two to qualify for honors. Posner said, “parents can Google the Blue Hen list for suggested book titles, including ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post.’” The book is also available in the school library.
Spencer Brittingham, president of the board at the time of the first vote was taken, said that “in three minutes I knew” that the book was unacceptable.
That vote was taken, according to Posner, without following the normal procedure of being placed on the agenda and allowing the public to address the issue. She also objected because, “the responsibility of school boards is to focus on policy and governance; a governing board’s role is not to manage the schools and the content of curricula.”
After the earlier vote to remove the book, there was a backlash against the decision that created a lot more interest in the issue. A number of community members donated copies of the book to a local bookstore, which has been giving the book away to interested teenagers. In addition, there was much discussion in local media outlets, and the ACLU threatened a lawsuit.
On July 24, the board met again and this time placed the issue on the agenda. Board member Sandy Minard indicated that they had to vote quickly, on June 12, because the end of the school year was approaching. She said, although she had not read the book, its content was brought to her attention by a community member, and she felt it was urgent to act.
Minard indicated that she knows that the other books on the list also contain profanities that are not suitable for young adults, but when questioned by Posner as to why they banned only the lesbian-oriented book, Minard indicated that this was the only book brought to her attention.
Dozens of citizens were present at this meeting to voice their support or opposition to the recommendations. Observers noted that this was one of the largest crowds to attend a school board meeting in quite some time.
Madison Bacon, a June graduate of Cape Henlopen High School spoke in favor of the book, indicating that “there was a lot of bullying going on in school, and literature can serve as a bridge to understanding.”
Rebecca Lowe, a librarian at Lewes Public Library and a parent, said that “of 100 books which are considered classics, 46 were faced with issues of censorship, so this is not unusual.”
Harry Metcalf, the parent who originally made the complaint said, “it is up to the parents to make the decisions on what books their children should read.”
Annie Norman, the Delaware State Librarian said that young people should be encouraged to read.