Now Playing in New Rochelle, "Book, Interrupted"!

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New Rochelle School District Censors Pages from Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen's harrowing memoir that inspired Academy Award-Winning Film starring Winona Ryder and Angela Jolie.

UPDATE: District Relents, Vows to Replace Books
Publisher Knopf Condemns Censorship in New Rochelle

Winona Ryder Angelina Jolie Girl, Interrupted.jpg

Students at New Rochelle School High School are going to find it difficult to complete their next assignment: comparing the film adaptation of "Girl, Interrupted" to the best-selling book. In the book, Kaysen recounts her confinement at a Massachussets mental hospital in the 1960's.

Pages from the middle of the book have been torn out by the school district after having been deemed "inappropriate" by school officials due to sexual content and strong language. Removed is a scene where the rebellious Lisa (played by Angelina Jolie in the movie) encourages Susanna (played by Winona Ryder) to circumvent hospital rules against sexual intercourse by engaging in oral sex instead.

"The material was of a sexual nature that we deemed inappropriate for teachers to present to their students," said English Department Chariperson Leslie Altschul, "since the book has other redeeming features, we took the liberty of bowdlerizing."

GirlInterrupted-Torn2.jpg

Sources at the school says that after receiving complaints from an as yet-to-be-identified person or group, the school district ordered students to return the book to the chairperson of the English department who then personally tore out pages 64 through 70 before returning the books to students. Ironically, news of the school censorship first broke during the same week as the school district's annual Literary Festival.

"Bowdlerizing is a particularly disturbing form of censorship since it not only suppresses specific content deemed 'objectionable,' but also does violence to the work by removing material that the author thought integral," said Joan Bertin, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship. "It is a kind of literary fraud perpetrated on an unsuspecting audience."

cindybabcockdeutsch.jpgThe ultimate decision on whether to ban books rests with Cindy Babcock-Deutsch, the President of the School Board. Babcock-Deutsch has a well-documented history of practicing censorship in her role as chairperson of board of education meetings. She has repeatedly asserted that "privacy laws" bar criticism of senior school administrators at school board meetings. More recently she has resorted to threats, interruptions and physical intimidation to silence critics at what are public meetings in public buildings.

Ms. Babcock-Deutsch did not respond to repeated requests to explain the actions of the District in censoring the book by tearing out pages. Don Conetta, principal of the school, and Richard Organisciak, schools superintendent, did not respond to requests for comment.

Sources at the District who declined to be identified confirmed that the district does have a book selection and book challenge process but those same sources claim the district failed to follow those policies in this case.

"We should either teach a book or not teach book," said one New Rochelle teacher who disagreed with the District's decision. "What sort of message do we send our students when we vandalize books?" While agreeing the content is not be suitable for all students, the teacher pointed out that the student involved were mostly 12th graders including some who were over 18 years of age. "Does someone in the school think these kids don't know about sex?"

The book was originally added to the curriculum at the request of a teacher no longer employed by the district. It was taught without incident at least one year prior to the complaint. The chairperson has admitted she did not read the book before approving it for use and only acted after receiving a complaint.

"The most shocking part of this story," said Chris Finan, President of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, "is that an English teacher in the 21st century would consciously emulate the example of Thomas Bowdler, a 19th century man who is infamous for his expurgations of Shakespeare!"

For her performance as Lisa in the film "Girl, Interrupted", Angela Jolie won an Oscar for best supporting actress. Jolie also won a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actor's Guild Award for the role.

If you would like to share your thoughts on the decision of the school district to censor Girl, Interrupted you can reach school district officials here:

Cindy Babcock Deutsch
President
Board of Education
City School District of New Rochelle
cindycsdnr@gmail.com
914-576-4300

Richard Organisciak
Superintendent of Schools
City School District of New Rochelle
rorganisciak@newrochelle.k12.ny.us
914-576-4300

Don Conetta
Principal
New Rochelle High School
Dconetta@newrochelle.k12.ny.us
914-576-4500

BLOGOSPHERE REAX:

BoingBoing: New Rochelle school board mutilates books to protect children (very active comments)

Some of the BoingBoing comments:

- Wow, I've never heard someone in the process of actively bowdlerizing use the term directly in defense of their actions.

- I have nothing but contempt for people who spend their time censoring sexual content in literature and movies

- This is a high school. If the administration thinks that their students wouldn't be having sex were it not for the encouragement of this book, they are deluding themselves.

- Books have plenty of other lovely redeeming features aside from their text. They make good coasters, they can be used to level uneven furniture, they provide heat when burned, and if the pages are thin enough, they make excellent toilet paper.

- Someone RIPPING pages from a book needs to be horsewhipped along with the idiots out there that are burning books.

- The little litigator inside me is thinking that a case could be made by the copyright holder for infringement by the production of a derivative work. By intentionally removing a broad swath of the story they have created a derivative work; as it was a registered work that was infringed, they could be liable for hefty damages.

- If the book is so objectionable that they have to tear it apart to protect students, why do they have it in stock in the first place? Ohh dear. If you're going to ask someone to write about a book, at least let them read the book in its entirety first. If I was a teacher at that school, I would have some serious concerns with the management
Did anyone else find "the liberty of bowdlerizing" to be a particularly hilarious turn of phrase?

- "liberty of bowdlerizing." So, they have the liberty to restrict other people's liberties, Sounds about right to me

- Protecting high school students from sexual content is sort of like trying to keep the ocean floor dry.

HotAir: A case of libri interruptus (very active comments)

If New Rochelle High and the school board found this book inappropriate for its students, they could simply have found another book to use in its lesson plan. Requiring students to read the book, and then ripping pages out of it, doesn’t just justify vandalism but also sends a message of incompetence and confusion. They had to have students return the books to get the pages torn out personally by the chair of the English department only after parents complained.

Did the school actually read the book before putting it on the lesson plan? If so, why didn’t they defend it from the complaints? And if they weren’t interested in doing that, why did they not just pull the book out of their library altogether? The same language persists throughout the book, and not just on the excised pages, as a search of the F-word returns more than 70 hits in the Amazon search.

New Rochelle High went too far in this case. Bowdlerizing books is a practice that went out of fashion decades ago, and for good reasons. It’s a poor substitute for proper consideration and preparation of reading and teaching material.

Some of the HotAir comments:

- Is this the real life “The Music Man”? … minus the entertaining song and dance.

- Cutting pages out is horrible…have respect for the written word.
It gives me the chills to think some person sits there a uses scissors to make a book “right”

- Ripping out pages? Really? This is a gross insult to the writer (an artist as well as a craftsperson)…a gross insult to the students’ intelligence, and so much more.

- Destroying or physically defacing books is just so creepy. It’s shiver-inducing creepy.

Crooks and Liars: New Rochelle School District Censors Pages from "Girl, Interrupted"

Seems to me that once again some winger complained and we have censorship as a result. Hey, they didn't like a portion of the book so just rip the pages out and be done with it. This is a "War on Christmas Literature." Why didn't they just burn the book? America should be outraged.

Some of the Crooks and Liars comments:

- That's a pretty astounding response from an English chair.

The Puget News: Bowdlerizing "Girl, Interrupted"

What the hell? An official quote form the school actually mentions “bowdlerizing”? Do they know how this has gone down (pun intended) in the past?

There He Is: Book burning alive and well in West Chester, NY

Well [Bowlder's] philosophy of line-item book burning is being followed by Cindy Babcock Deutsch, President of the Thought Police Board of Education of the New Rochelle School District. What did she censor? A section of the book "Girl, Interrupted" in which a girl discusses oral sex. This being studied by a senior year english class (who have NEVER even CONCEIVED of what oral sex is). You stay progressive, Cindy. I am sure you'll embrace forever having your name equated with book burner on the internet sooner or later.

Liberty's Harbor: High School Book Censorship Silliness

One does not, any circumstances, tear pages out of books. It is just uncivilized and wrong. Period.

Biliophile Bullpen: Thomas Bowdler rides boldy into the 21st century

No offense but if i had kids in that school system, i'd riot - and vote those f---ers out of office.

Censorship is the vile business of bigots and zealots; it is always abhorred by enlightened people. These teachers should be censured publicly and summarily fired immediately. Their teaching credentials should be revoked.

under the covers: good, old-fashioned censorship

While Thomas Bowdler would surely approve, I do not. I hear these stories all the time but still can't quite believe they're real.

OTHER BLOG POSTS OF NOTE

National Coalition Against Censorship Blog: School officials rip pages from Girl, Interrupted

Joanne Jaobs: Ripped

Bookninja: Book, interrupted

Pat Dollard: Bowdlerizing: The New “Tower Of Babel” Is Censorship

Librarian and Information Science News: Mutilating books for Censorship

Bookshelves of Doom: New Rochelle High School is teaching Girl, Interrupted... minus pages 64-70

KTM: New Rochelle Schools Censor "Girl, Interrupted" by Tearing Out Pages

OW: Worst Person in the World? Cindy Babcock Deutsch

YPulse: More book bashing

Vatul: Another Account Of School Censorship

DTMB: NY School District Authorizes HS English Dept. to"Tear Out" Inappropriate Pages

minor topics: Bowdlerizing Alive and Well in New Rochelle

Obscurant 2.0: That’s When I reach For My Revolver

Intercourse with Biscuits: Girl, Interrupted

bmw: New Rochelle school board mutilates books to protect children

Brandywine Parents: libri interruptus

Lessons from the Tortoise: Are we really talking about this again?

UPDATE

Facing Firestorm of Criticism, New Rochelle Schools Relent on "Girl, Interrupted" Censorship

World Reacts with Strong Condemnation to New Rochelle School's Censorship

Two Days Late, Journal News Reports on "Girl, Interrupted" Controversy

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

MrTalk on Tue, 01/20/2009 - 18:04

I suggest you familiarize yourself with the "book challenge" and "book selection" process for the New Rochelle school district. You might then realize that the book challenge process concludes with the president of the school board putting the issue on the agenda at a school board meeting. She did not do that; the District failed to follow their own process.

With great power comes great responsibility - and as school board president, Cindy Babcock-Deutsch is responsible for what goes on in the district.

New Rochelle Co... on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 11:52

Thank you.

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 14:01

Anyone who is in the least familiar with how the District is run knows that the first and last priority is ALWAYS propaganda. No criticism is tolerated, no bad news is every acknowledged, no dissenting voices are welcome.

Welcome to the People's Republic of New Rochelle otherwise known as the City School District of New Rochelle.

Warren Gross on Thu, 12/11/2008 - 17:03
Title: censorship

why is anyone surprised at the subsequent response from the board or administraton. Organisciak is a master of obfuscation and his "bushisms" rank with the best on the internet. Wasn't he the guy who said years earlier in a situation involving a high school initiation prank in Long Island that ' we have zero tolerance for any act of harassment real or imagined." well, take away the quotation marks as memory is a bit off, but it is easily found on the Internet.

As far as this Board of Directors are concerned, none are more arrogant and frankly, less skilled. The stories of heavy handed action, lack of parent access, stonewalling of information and blind obedience to annual tax increases are legendary. Their menu choices in using scarce funds are also legendary --- pay for artificial turf and neglect even a semblance of a capital planning strategy are well known in these parts. You might like to check out the graduate rate, drop in student performance, issues around the number of students in key school like the high school and ward school.

Someone once said "people get the government they deserve." This is more true than ever in this day and age. The board is arrogant, blind to change, non-response, beyond any redemption, and their choices in who they place in charge of some of the schools, especially the choice of Superintendent, are lamentable and speak volumes for the city to assume much more of an oversight role and for the voters to think about what they are doing before pulling down a lever.

Now bowdlerize, or better yet, expurgate this little piece of whimsy --- better yet, enough of scola interruptus -- the kids are alright, but you ain't.

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Wed, 12/10/2008 - 14:53

The next board meeting will be held next Tuesday on the second floor at City Hall. At the end of each board meeting there is a public comment period where anyone can speak for a limited time (it varies from 3-5 minutes). Anyone who is concerned should come to the meeting and give a few minutes of their time to explain to the board why the district's actions here were wrong.

As someone who DOES attend school board meetings I can tell you that unless teachers are getting tenure or there is some other special event, there are typically close to zero members of the public present. The board prefers to operate in the dark so this suits them fine. Most people who attend the school board meetings come away dismayed at the lack of a democratic process (e.g. the board votes on resolutions BEFORE the public comment period and good luck in getting your hands on the resolutions before the day of a board meeting) so do not get your hopes up. The board's policy is to say nothing during or after the public comment period, they do not respond to questions or otherwise engage with the public. It is the policy of the board that you are not permitted to MENTION district personnel by name (or even refer to them indirectly) so you will not be able to mention Ms. Altschul, Don Conetta, or any other district personnel in your remarks.

Now that you know what you are up against let me suggest the following as a plan of action:

1) Require the district to make public on their web site the "book selection" and "book challenge" process. According to the people from the National Coalition Against Censorship almost every district has these policies on the books. Let's see what they are in New Rochelle.

2) Determine whether either process was followed in the case of "Girl, Interrupted".

3) Determine how many other books have been similarly challenged, what sort of hearings took place, whether other books were banned, restricted or bowdlerized.

4) Fix or replace any books that have been defaced in any way; remove restrictions or bans on any books where the book challenge process was not followed. If someone then wants to follow the process for a book challenge let them do so openly.

5) Invite the National Coalition Against Censorship (or similar group) to present on this topic to a student assembly at the high school and run workshops for teachers at the next Superintedent's Day.

6) Get a pledge from each board member to never let this happen again.

That would be a start. I would welcome any additional goals and objectives folks might add to this list.

Writing emails is good - and people should - but shining a light on the conduct of the board is the most effective means of brining about change.

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Sat, 12/13/2008 - 00:07

Define "a lot of money" and "hardly anyone"!!!! :-)

That said, you are certainly right to say that if most people really knew what was going on in New Rochelle they would be outraged. Most don't want to know and those in charge like it that way.

Case in point, if Don Conetta is to believed, district personnel knew about this book censorship issue four years ago and said nothing. Students knew about it and said nothing. We put up a little blog post and all of a sudden the school district's switchboard lights up.

Don't get me wrong, this is an egregious case of censorship but is nothing compared to the theft, fraud and mismanagement which defines the district. Imagine what would happen if people got a transparent accounting for how the district spends the quarter billion dollars a year that sloshes around their coffers. Anyone here ever try to decipher the school district's budget? Ha!

That is where the Internet becomes such a powerful tool. No one person in New Rochelle knows the full extent of corruption but each of us adds our little bit of what we know to a central web site like this one, the pieces of the puzzle can start to sort themselves out. A favorite trick of the district is to avoid putting things in writing and talk to parents alone so there is no record and no good way for parents to compare notes. As a result, parents can be told pretty much anything and they typically have no good way to know they've been told a lie.

It's why the entrenched interests are so threatened by this web site.

Warren Gross on Thu, 12/11/2008 - 17:28

all sensible and sound. recently the city administration has been getting a little more concerned about the deficits in the school district and this latest incident should just about turn the tide in terms of installing more accountability. Mayor Bramson is decent and intelligent enough to recognize that a growing city burdened with a failing district, a board with little or no oversight or policy skills, one which practices censorship as you have reported even at public meetigs, and one which has even asked an ex councilman to leave a meeting even though his presence was to advocate for his child, has no, repeat no place in any strategic plan for our city's growth. an earlier blog reply from a recent resident speaks volumes to the issue as that family is debating moving to scarsdale.

Bob, send your blog ideas and any other indicators that you feel are important to noam and to chuck strome. noam is a advocate of open communication and as indicated, is beginning to look at the district with fresh ideas.

My idea if you want something to add to your list is that the mayor appoint a formal organizational arrangement headed up by someone of impeccable moral credentials as well as decent business skills, to attend all board meetings and other matters and report back to Chuck and he. The other part of the formal arrangement would be some for of ombudsman who would have an open door policy to hear parent and other grievances and report such to the individual who attends the board meetings. My personal wish list is to replace the entire board with appointments made by mayor and council, augmented by one or two "community appointments as soon as possible. While that perculates, I would strongly advise the dismissal of Organisciak who has produced to my knowledge anything resembling a coherent business plan for the district, a critical review of principal criteria especially at the key middle school level, a total revamping of policy and process that produce a opaque as opposed to a transparent system.

Bob, if it came to anything, I would love to see Carlos Sanchez and you holding either an appointed post or serving as one of the community advocates. And, finally, get the union out of a non-collective bargaining role by not allowing the union to participate in district budget presentations to community as well as removal from head of PTA post. This is absurd!

best mr g

Warren Gross on Tue, 12/16/2008 - 19:23

I hope you're wrong and I think you may be at this point. You seem to suggest that Noam is most ameniable to what and who he knows and, thus, Barry Fertel, etc.. I concede that was the case, but I think less so today. People grow and politics is a dirty business, and we all want people around us we know and feel comfortable with. I have personally asked Noam on several occasions to broaden his net of advisors and be more active in seeking contributors from opposing voices. He is starting to do that I think and is seeing some things with a different set of perspectives than he did a year or so ago. Times change people on occasion and our Mayor loves this city as much as I do and think you do. He is beginning to see the effects of significant propositions, such as a school district and system, on the growth and development of our city.

Mr A, maybe I am wrong, but lets suspend judgment for a while and try to help move this city forward in as many ways as we can. Bob Cox, Carlos Sanchez and others open shut eyes to the school district something I have challenged for several years. Bob, is literally an asset to our community and I never met the man. He knows the power of positive work.

I have just finished the lengthy Suozzi report on Property taxes, school districts, STAR ex.... it is all there and suggest you see the enormity of this challenge from that perspective. And, it might be fun to see what Organisciak says about "appropriate" material at the 12-18 meeting. Maybe we all should try to make it and unlace our shoes in the event he begins something analogous to his performance shortly after the unavoidable fire at the high school in the summer. Took him about 48 hours to provide a plaque for Noam and Chuck Strome for God knows what reason -- he could have done better by giving them to the first responders.

That is what you are facing here --- "appropriate, educators, professionals, diversity, ..... the list of pedagogic buzz words go on as a substitute for solid change and community accountability. Noam Bramson will be fine --- even if not, he really needs to slide behind the people in the community entrusted with lots of our money and most of our hopes to ensure the kids are alright. What they don't need is "dark sarcasm in the classroom" as seen by censoring what they read and affixing a label called "appropriate on an agenda item. What is literally up with that?

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Thu, 12/11/2008 - 18:08

The idea of an ombudsman to help parents contend with the district bureaucracy is a very good one - something I have spoken about myself. At least parents would theoretically have an ally who could explain why various statements from school officials to parents are untrue. Parents are routinely lied to by district employees. This is why the district goes to great length to discourage parents from comparing notes. It is why they are threatened by this web site.

There are MANY good teachers in New Rochelle and some in the administration who are disgusted by the behavior of those who control what goes on in the New Rochelle school district. These people have learned, however, that to get along you have to go along - and the district plays the hardest of hardball with district personnel who don't drink the Kool-Aid. As is always the case in a dysfunctional organization, the problems start with bad leadership. The old saying "a fish rots from the head down" was never more true than in the City School District of New Rochelle

There is not enough time in the day for me to post every store I hear about malfeasance and inappropriate conduct within the schools - ripping pages out of books, smoking cigars at the school, collective punishments of young children, racially insensitive remarks, physical abuse of students by staff, drug dealing my district employees, gang activity, sexual improprieties, CPS violations, forging records, falsifying records, perjury, obstruction of justice. Really, there is no end to the list. I for one, have no intention of publishing things here that I cannot fully document as the leadership in New Rochelle will have no problem in using taxpayer dollars to finance legal action against me and this site should I give them an opening.

That is also why we allow residents to register and report what they know about goings on in New Rochelle. First hand accounts of the truth are an absolute defense against legal threats from the district.

If anyone in New Rochelle were seriously interested in holding the school board and the administration to account I can offer a few VERY SIMPLE and CHEAP ways to make that happen.

1) Remove all postal meters in school buildings so that all outbound mail must be stamped at the post office - this will end the common practice of back-dating legal communications between parents and school officials. The postal meters used by the school district can be easily manipulated to print ANY DATE desired by the sender.

2) Broadcast every public meeting of the school board on public access TV

3) Require that all documents presented at school board meetings be published on the web at least one week prior to the board meeting without exception; likewise allow the public to obtain hard copies at City Hall.

4) Move the public comment period at meetings to the beginning of all school board meetings, display the timer used to limit public comments, fix the amount of time allowed for public comment at 5 minutes (it changes from meeting to meeting)

5) Send parents the FULL code of conduct not the censored "summary" version that has been sent out for years. Maybe then parents will realize that school officials and staff have various legal obligations to parents and students and then families in New Rochelle have complete "due process" rights.

6) Term Limits - Limit board members to three terms during their lifetime, apply this limit to spouses as well, reduce the length of the terms of office from 5 years to 4 years for board members, stagger the elections so that half the board is up for election every two years, hold a separate election for school board president so this position is an elected position with a two year term, exclude any sitting board member from running for school board president so the board president is accountable directly to residents of New Rochelle not board members who appoint their own President.

8 ) Consolidate school board elections to insure maximum turn out, hold elections on weekends instead of during the week.

9) Geographical representation - elect board members by each of the 10 elementary school sub-districts, this might help end the disproportionate representation of the North End on the school board.

Anyone care to add to this list of simple steps to bring transparency

purplepride on Tue, 12/09/2008 - 04:28
Title: Health

In case anyone forgot, Health is required junior or senior year in order to graduate with a NYS Regents Diploma, so oral sex must have been touched upon, even briefly, as an alternative to intercourse.

When did NRHS become fascist?

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Tue, 12/09/2008 - 04:47

This IS a "fight" about a bowdlerized text.

The district is being criticized for the exact opposite of what you claim. The people involved DESERVE whatever criticism they get.

It's simple. You do not EVER tear pages out of a book. Ever.

Got it?

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Mon, 12/08/2008 - 23:26

...is involved already which brings many good groups to bear on this problem.

Also the booksellers are involved.

I believe Random House will be heard from too.

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Mon, 12/08/2008 - 17:35

Wow!

Can you please explain more.

I've contacted Random House and, in fact, their lawyers are taking a look at it.

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