ACLU condemns Yorkville School Board Y115 for removing book from English class

'Just Mercy' by Bryan Stevenson is being used in the Yorkville High School English II Rhetorical Analysis course.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois is condemning the Yorkville School Board’s decision to prohibit use of the book “Just Mercy” in a Yorkville High School English course.

“What we are seeing in Yorkville is part of a national attempt to curb reading materials based on politics and ideology, to the detriment of students and educators,” said Edwin C. Yohnka, director of communications and public policy at the ACLU in Chicago.

“The national fever to remove certain books is driven by a desire to stifle LGBTQ+ stories, voices addressing racial injustices and others who often are suppressed in our society,” Yohnka said.

“Yorkville should not join this movement and we hope they will heed the voices – the majority of voices – in the community who do not did not want this book removed from the curriculum by board members not actually in the classroom,” Yohnka added.

Earlier this year, the parent of a student in the English II Rhetorical Analysis course complained about use of Bryan Stevenson’s book, which takes a critical look at America’s criminal justice system, triggering the district’s uniform grievance procedure.

Initially, the school board decided on May 22 to allow the book to remain as the “anchor text” for the class with the proviso that an alternative text for the class to be offered.

But at its Aug. 7 meeting, the board changed its decision on a 4-2 vote, directing that the book may no longer be used in the course.

Those voting in favor of removing the book from the class included board President Darren Crawford and board members Jason Demas, Mike Knoll and Mike Houston.

Those voting no were board members Leslie Smogor and Shawn Schumacher. Board member Jason Senffner was absent and has since resigned.

The Illinois Attorney General’s Office is investigating a complaint filed Sept. 28 alleging that the board violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act when discussing the book in closed session.

The board cited the grievance procedure as justification for going into closed session to discuss the question.

But the complaint by Mary Grzywa of Marseilles charges that the the closed meetings were improper.

The Attorney General’s Office has requested meeting minutes and other documentation from the closed meeting on Aug. 7.

“Please also provide a detailed written answer to the allegation that the board improperly discussed the removal of a book from the curriculum during that closed session,” according to a letter to the district from the Attorney General’s Office.

The school district “is currently working with the Illinois Attorney General regarding the alleged Open Meetings Act (OMA) violation investigation by providing all necessary details and information related,” according to a statement released by District Y115 spokesman Brent Edwards, Director of Marketing and Storytelling.

“The district takes all Open Meetings Act allegations seriously and is currently working with its legal counsel and the Attorney General’s Office to prepare a response as required under OMA,” the statement read.

The statement also emphasized that the School Board did not ban the book and that it is available in the school library.

“The district believes it has substantially complied with OMA, and no findings to the contrary have been made by the Attorney General’s Office at this stage,” the statement continues. “The board remains committed to transparency and compliance with OMA.”

Mark Foster

Mark Foster is a freelance reporter for Shaw Local News Network, covering local government in Kane County