Skip to main content




On March 15, 2013, a new question was being asked in Chicago: Why is Barbara Byrd Bennett (the latest "CEO" of the nation's third largest school district) banning books on the eve of a massive closing of more real public schools? For more than two days, Chicago Public Schools librarians and principals have been in a tizzy because of an order, confirmed as having emanated from Chicago Public Schools "Chief Executive Officer" Barbara Byrd Bennett, that the illustrated novel "Persepolis" is to be removed from CPS libraries and not assigned as reading in any CPS classrooms.


Photo of the original email from Lane Tech Principal Christopher Dignam, courtesy of CPS Chatter


The American Library Association said the action “smacks of censorship.”

The novel, which has been used by CPS teachers and approved by CPS for nearly a decade since it was first published, deals with the Iranian revolution of the 1970s that overthrew the American puppet government of the Shah of Iran and installed the theocratic dictatorship under the Ayatollahs.


Librarians at two Chicago high schools confirmed that they were ordered by their principals to remove the books from school library shelves on March 13, and March 14, 2013. The principals told the librarians that the orders came from the "Network Offices" which were supposedly acting on orders from Byrd Bennett. The CPS "Office of Communications" has refused to explain how this incident took place, even refusing to confirm to Substance that the censorship order has gone out by Friday, March 15.


Although "Banned Books Week" isn't until September, the American Library Association, based in Chicago, continues to update its list of banned books, which is indexed by year. (Disclosure: in 1991, Amundsen High School principal Ed Klunk ordered this reporter to stop teaching the Vietnam War novel "The 13th Valley" to 12th graders (who had parental permission to read the book).

Letter from the American Library Association:

David Vitale, President of the Chicago Board of Education

Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago

March 15, 2013

Dear Ms. Byrd-Bennett, Mr. Vitale, and Mayor Emanuel:

On behalf of both the American Library Association (ALA) and its First Amendment legal arm, the Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF), I am writing to express our organizations’ deep concern regarding the “recall” of the book Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi from multiple Chicago Public Schools (CPS) high schools. Persepolis is an award-winning work that is well reviewed and widely praised for its sensitive and remarkable depiction of a young woman’s coming of age during the Iranian Revolution.

Earlier this week, a directive was issued by administrators at the Fullerton network and Lane Tech High Schools for this book to be removed from school libraries and classrooms. Emails from Aisha Strong of Fullerton and Christopher Dignam of Lane Tech explicitly direct CPS staff to physically remove Persepolis from classrooms and libraries. A subsequent email from Jeremy Dunn provides “clarification from the Chief Education Office that the directive to remove Persepolis from schools does not apply to school libraries, and that any further challenge or attempt to remove this or any other book from a school library must be guided by the Collection Development policy which outlines the review procedure.”

While we applaud the CPS Department of Libraries for adhering to its own very well-crafted policies on school library collection development, particularly Policy 604.7, we remain exceedingly troubled by the standing directive to remove the book from classrooms.

We understand that concerns about the content of Persepolis – particularly regarding specific passages, language, and images deemed graphic or otherwise objectionable – were brought forward by a CPS principal, sparking the current removal and review of this book as teaching material. In addition, we understand that the driving concern behind this “recall” is access to Persepolis by CPS seventh graders, yet the book is identified as an instructional text in the CPS Literacy Content Framework (Common Core) Seventh Grade Toolset – a curriculum guide provided to teachers for the 2012-13 school year.

The CPS directive to remove this book from the hands of students represents a heavy-handed denial of students’ rights to access information, and smacks of censorship. Censorship results in the opposite of true education and learning. Young people will only develop the skills they need to analyze information and make choices among a wide variety of competing sources if they are permitted to read books and explore ideas under the guidance of caring adults. As an institution of democracy and learning, CPS has a responsibility to actively model and practice the ideals of free speech, free thought, and access to information at the heart of our democracy.
We fully support the talented CPS teachers and librarians who work so hard to thoughtfully and sensitively explore vital but often difficult ideas and information with their students.

We request and would appreciate an explanation of these actions, and we encourage you to both retain and return the book as quickly as possible to the students of Chicago Public Schools. Such action will reaffirm the importance and value of the freedom to read. We must send the message to students that in this country they have the right and responsibility to think critically about what they read, rather than allowing others to do their thinking for them.

Barbara Jones
Director, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom
Executive Director, Freedom to Read Foundation

CPS officials have refused to explain why "Persepolis" has become controversial in 2013 after having been used in CPS classrooms and read by thousands of teachers and students since its original publication nearly a decade ago.

On March 15, 2013, the Chicago Teachers Union issued a statement on the censorship. (The statement was revised to include two additional paragraphs late in the afternoon of March 15 after CPS issued a confused statement claiming that the book had only been banned for "7th graders" even though high schools had by then confirmed that librarians across the city had been ordered to remove -- the unremove -- the book. Principals who tried to keep up with the continued contradictory bans, semi-bans, and un-bans so far said they would not be available to Substance for comment.

CTU Statement regarding the Chicago Public Schools Sudden Ban of the Graphic Novel “Persepolis”

CHICAGO –The Chicago Teachers Union released the following statements regarding today’s protests by educators and students of the school district’s sudden ban on the graphic novel Persepolis. Elementary school principals were ordered through email to remove all copies of the book from classrooms and libraries:

“We are surprised ‘Persepolis: A Story of Childhood’ would be banned by the Chicago Public School (CPS) system. The only place we’ve heard of this book being banned is in Iran. We understand why the district would be afraid of a book like this-- at a time when they are closing schools--because it’s about questioning authority, class structures, racism and gender issues. There’s even a part in the book where they are talking about blocking access to education. So we can see why the school district would be alarmed about students learning about these principles. There’s a lot of merit in Marjane Satrapj’s graphic novel. Not only is it thoughtful, it can be instructive for young people, especially girls. Persepolis can help our students begin to think about the world around them. We hope CPS has not reverted back to the 1950s,” said CTU Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle.”

“We hope this is not a trend in Chicago’s failed school reform experiment. There are rumors that CPS wants to also ban ‘A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Solider’ by Ishmael Beah, and, that too, would be unfortunate. We stand with our educators who see this sudden book banning directive as an unnecessary overreaction,” added CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin.


“CPS is now claiming Persepolis is banned only from the 7th grade classroom but will be available in school libraries. Unfortunately 160 elementary schools don’t have libraries—and they know that,” added CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin. “Enough with the Orwellian doublespeak. We support our educators who are fighting to ensure their students have access to ideas about democracy, freedom of speech and self-image. Let’s not go backward in fear.”

Here's the full statement from Byrd-Bennett:

March 15, 2013

Dear Principals:

I am writing to clarify an email you received from Network Chiefs earlier this week about the graphic novel, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. First, let me be clear - we are not banning this book from our schools.

Persepolis is included as a selection in the Literacy Content Framework for seventh grade. It was brought to our attention that it contains graphic language and images that are not appropriate for general use in the seventh grade curriculum. If your seventh grade teachers have not yet taught this book, please ask them not to do so and to remove any copies of the book from their classrooms.

We have determined Persepolis may be appropriate for junior and senior students and those in Advance Placement classes. Due to the powerful images of torture in the book, I have asked our Office of Teaching & Learning to develop professional development guidelines, so that teachers can be trained to present this strong, but important content. We are also considering whether the book should be included, after appropriate teacher training, in the curriculum of eighth through tenth grades. Once this curricular determination has been made, we will notify you.

Also, please be reminded that central school library collections are governed by the New Collection Development Policy For School Libraries. We are not requesting that you remove Persepolis from your central school library. Therefore do not remove this book or any other book from the central school library, unless you have complied with the policy.

Thank you for your patience and understanding in this matter. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you and your staff.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett
Chief Executive Officer, Chicago Public Schools

Strange since the Persepolis was identified as an instructional text in CPS’s Literacy Content Framework (Common Core) Seventh Grade Toolset—a curriculum guide provided to teachers for the 2012–2013 school year.

Toolset_Seventh_Grade_v1.0 6

STTP Curriculum Brizard_Page_1

Blogger and Educator Fred Klonsky drew up a cover for a new book that needs to get to press ASAP!

klonsky persepolis

In protest of the CPS’ strange ban of Persepolis: A Story of Childhood’ to 7th grade classrooms, students at the Social Justice High School have a read-in with the book.




Originally posted to Hyde Park Johnny on Fri Mar 15, 2013 at 06:46 PM PDT.

Also republished by Chicago Kossacks, Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter, Your Government at Work, Occupy Wall Street, In Support of Labor and Unions, and Community Spotlight.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site