School district sued over book ban

By Riley Morningstar
Courtesy The Journal

EASLEY — The five-year ban of an anti-racism book from a local school district is a violation of the First Amendment, attorneys for the Pickens County Branch NAACP said in a federal lawsuit last week.

A 28-page complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against the School District of Pickens County was filed in the United States District Court of South Carolina’s Anderson Division on Wednesday. District spokesman Darian Byrd told The Journal on Friday morning the district couldn’t comment, but hadn’t been served papers yet.



The lawsuit filed by the local NAACP branch comes with legal backing from the ACLU of South Carolina and lists three sets of parents with children in the district.

The school board unanimously voted to remove “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You” in September over its use in a 10th-grade English classroom at Daniel High School, saying it violated a state budget proviso restricting districts from using any state money to teach or approve any instructional materials centered around racist concepts. Three parents submitted challenges against the use of the book for promoting “socialism,” “radical Marxism” and “objectible (sic) indoctrination.” Two committees — one of district officials and district parents — each approved the use of the book in classrooms and media centers.

The other book banned for five years was “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” but it was not mentioned in the filing.

The plaintiffs called the move “pure censorship” and alleged the skin color of the board was a factor in the removal.

“The vote was a calculated decision by seven white board members to suppress ideas that they personally and politically oppose, in hopes that fewer students would be exposed to them,” the filing said. “The board may not exercise that authority to silence views based on its political and partisan preferences.”

The filing said the book did not violate state educational curriculum standards and challenged students to develop critical thinking skills. The book by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds “describes and deconstructs the history of racist thought in America and was written specifically for young-adult readers,” according to the plaintiffs’ preliminary statement.

Lawyers also set their sights on the growing South Carolina House Freedom Caucus movement. They took aim at the racial makeup of the group of 20 members — pointing out all 20 were white, and 17 were men.

“The 20 white South Carolinians who act under the banner of the Freedom Caucus believe that their opinions on race are correct and that all other opinions are wrong and dangerous,” the lawsuit said, including screengrabs of praise after the banning from Freedom Caucus House Rep. Thomas Beach and political group Conservatives of the Upstate.

The filing closes by asking for a judge to declare the removal a constitutional violation, reinstate the book in the district and for the defendant to cover attorneys’ fees.


‘Antithetical to the First Amendment’

ACLU of South Carolina legal director Allen Chaney said the removal was “antithetical to the First Amendment and reflects a deep hostility toward America’s promise of a free and pluralistic society.”

“We are hopeful that the courts will vindicate the Constitution and rebuke the cresting wave of censorship we’re experiencing across South Carolina,” he said.

Pickens County Branch NAACP president Shelia Crawford said in a news release, “Black history is American history.”

“We have a responsibility to provide our students with a complete teaching of our nation’s history — both the good and the bad,” she said. “The Pickens County Branch of the NAACP is proud to stand with the national NAACP and ACLU of South Carolina in this lawsuit to protect a curriculum that celebrates diversity, promotes equity, while furthering justice for black America.”