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Conservative youth group will offer Burbank students free copies of sidelined books

Paperback copies of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" and "To Kill a Mockingbird."
Three of the five books the Burbank Unified School District removed from in-class instruction because of alleged harm to the district’s Black students.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A conservative youth organization announced Monday that it would provide students in the Burbank Unified School District with free copies of five challenged books that were recently made non-mandatory reading.

“In addition to putting the books Burbank schools are attempting to hide directly into students’ hands, [Young America’s Foundation] is calling on those with the power to do the right thing — the board members of the Burbank Unified School District — to immediately rescind their ban on these books,” the organization said on Twitter.

Some argue the books under review — including “To Kill a Mockingbird” and two YA classics — instigated racist incidents; defenders believe they’re antiracist.

On Sept. 9, English teachers in Burbank were told they would not be allowed to teach some of the books on their curriculum until further notice: Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” Theodore Taylor’s “The Cay” and Mildred D. Taylor’s Newbery Medal-winning young-adult classic “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.”

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Four parents filed district complaints alleging that the novels, which deal with race and racism in America, are harmful to the public school district’s roughly 400 Black students. The district formed a 15-person review committee to address the challenges and present a recommendation to Burbank school district Supt. Matt Hill, but they did not reach a consensus. On Nov. 27, Hill announced that the district was removing the novels from its core reading list and banning the use and reading of the N-word in classrooms.

“The complaints raised regarding the books have allowed us to examine why we mandate these books,” said Hill in a letter sent to district families and staff.

“When these books were selected they were not intentionally selected to guide us through conversations of race and racism. In addition, the complaints have created the space to have brave conversations, not just about the books in question, but also about our district’s policies, practices, and culture,” he continued. “In my opinion, the number one goal of American public education is to provide access and opportunity to all students. We must constantly review our educational system to ensure we are making progress towards this goal. Only in doing so can we actually face what must be changed.”

Donor Rob Raede decided to fund the YAF’s giveaway in protest of the decision. “These books are classics of American fiction precisely because they address uncomfortable historical truths from our past,” Raede told the YAF. “We are proud to do what we can to make sure the students of Burbank have access to this great literature, despite the efforts of the book-banning cowards on the school board to deny to their students the lessons contained within.”

In a statement published on the organization’s website, YAF spokesman Spencer Brown said, “History is to be learned from, not erased anytime the whims of a leftist mob deem it uncomfortable.” Raede’s donation, he added, will help the YAF “provide these important works of literature and do what the Burbank School Board won’t — allow its students to learn from and wrestle with the ideas in these iconic books.”

The challenge does not forbid Burbank students from reading the books; it only restricts in-class teaching of the material. According to Supt. Hill, the novels will still be available in school libraries, and students can choose to read them in small groups or independently.


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