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National Protest Against Texas School Censoring Fitz Cartoon

The National Coalition Against Censorship has joined with ten other organizations to protest a Texas school district’s actions in withdrawing an assignment for 8th graders, in response to a complaint by police. Texas Governor Greg Abbott demanded that the teacher be fired and that the school district be investigated. “NCAC calls upon the (Wylie school) board to rescind its ban on the cartoon, allowing the assignment to be completed. It should further publicly commit that the teacher will not be fired or otherwise punished. Finally, we urge you to reaffirm your obligation to present students with views from across the political spectrum and to establish procedures that guarantee teachers can operate free from the fear of political censorship.”

The organizations protesting the school district’s actions include:

American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom
National Council for the Social Studies
National Council of Teachers of English
PEN America Children’s and Young Adult Book Committee 
PEN America and the Artists at Risk Connection
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Freedom to Read Foundation
Index on Censorship

Come read the protest letter on my blog!

The National Coalition Against Censorship has joined with ten other organizations to protest a Texas school district’s actions in withdrawing an assignment for 8th graders, in response to a complaint by police.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott demanded that the teacher be fired and that the school district be investigated. Read about the incident here in my blog.

“NCAC calls upon the (Wylie school) board to rescind its ban on the cartoon, allowing the assignment to be completed. It should further publicly commit that the teacher will not be fired or otherwise punished. Finally, we urge you to reaffirm your obligation to present students with views from across the political spectrum and to establish procedures that guarantee teachers can operate free from the fear of political censorship.”

The organizations protesting the school district’s actions include:

American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom
National Council for the Social Studies
National Council of Teachers of English
PEN America Children’s and Young Adult Book Committee
PEN America and the Artists at Risk Connection
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Freedom to Read Foundation
Index on Censorship

Here is NCAC’s letter:
August 26, 2020

David Vinson, Ph.D. Superintendent
Wylie Independent School District
951 South Ballard Avenue
Wylie, TX 75098

Re: Removal of Political Cartoon From School Website

Dear Dr. Vinson,

I am writing on behalf of the National Coalition Against Censorship and the other organizations signed below to protest the decision to remove from a school website an editorial cartoon that was part of a class assignment because it criticizes the use of violence against Black people over the course of American history, including violence by police.

NCAC is an alliance of 57 national non-profit organizations, including literary, artistic, religious, educational, professional, labor, and civil liberties groups. We promote freedom of thought, inquiry and expression for all Americans, including K-12 students, teachers, and staff.

Our CagleCartoonist David Fitzsimmons of the Arizona Daily Star, who drew the cartoon that offended the police and the governor.

Based on news reports, it is our understanding that a social studies teacher at Cooper Junior High School posted two editorial cartoons as part of the assignment–the cartoon about racial violence and another depicting opposition to wearing a mask as protection against the Covid-19. The assignment was cancelled after the National Fraternal Order of Police complained that the cartoon about racial violence is “abhorrent and disturbing.” Texas Governor Greg Abbott has demanded that the teacher be fired and asked the Texas Education Agency to investigate.

Yet the teacher appears to have been following the curriculum established by the state board of education, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies. It requires middle school students to “discuss how and whether the actions of U.S. citizens and the local, state, and federal governments have achieved the ideals espoused in the founding documents.” It further requires them to “organize and interpret information from . . . visuals,” to “identify bias and points of view created by the historical context surrounding an event,” and to “evaluate the validity of a source based on corroboration with other sources and information about the author.”

The teacher at Cooper Junior High School asked students to write about the role that protest plays in democracy and about whether protest leads to change in society. In other words, it asked students to do exactly what the standards require them to do: “discuss how and whether the actions of U.S. citizens . . . have achieved the ideals espoused in the founding documents” The assignment included the two cartoons as examples of protest by people on opposite ends of the political spectrum. There was no effort to endorse either view.

However, the actions taken by school officials were anything but neutral. By cancelling the assignment, they expressed official disapproval of the ideas expressed by the cartoon depicting racial violence. As a result, they violated their duty as public officials. More than 75 years ago, the Supreme Court stated that “no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion,” and just three years ago the Court reiterated that ““If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

The district’s actions create a dangerous precedent, putting teachers on notice that they cannot present any material that might be offensive to someone in the community. Just as teachers in San Francisco should feel free to show students a cartoon which argues that Blue Lives Matter, teachers in the Wylie ISD should be able to display a cartoon that argues that Black Lives Matter.

NCAC calls upon the board to rescind its ban on the cartoon, allowing the assignment to be completed. It should further publicly commit that the teacher will not be fired or otherwise punished. Finally, we urge you to reaffirm your obligation to present students with views from across the political spectrum and to establish procedures that guarantee teachers can operate free from the fear of political censorship.

Sincerely yours,

Christopher Finan
Executive Director
National Coalition Against Censorship

Co-signed by:
American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Freedom to Read Foundation
Index on Censorship
National Council for the Social Studies
National Council of Teachers of English
PEN America and the Artists at Risk Connection
PEN America Children’s and Young Adult Book Committee

Cc: Matt Atkins, Board President
Heather Leggett, Board Vice-President
Jacob Day, Board Secretary
Stacie Gooch, Board Member
Barbara Goss, Board Member
Mitch Herzog, Board Member
Stacie Smith, Board Member


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3 replies on “National Protest Against Texas School Censoring Fitz Cartoon”

I agree that this cartoon should not be banned. This kind of oppression and racism must stop. However, in society, should all ideas be allowed to be aired regardless? Are all beliefs to be considered acceptable to all because they are acceptable to a few? Some things are distasteful and unacceptable such as spousal abuse, cannibalism, pedophilia, ritualistic murder, and human trafficking. Talk about them yes, but they are not acceptable. .

How ironic that our President (and leader of the Republican Party) boldly stated at the Republican National Convention that he and the party are against “cancel culture.” Seems like the Republican Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, didn’t get that email. Or this attempt at censorship is just another example of hypocrisy by Republicans.

Except, the wording and presentation of the assignment clearly established which moral orthodoxy was acceptable in the view of the teacher. There was nothing neutral about the assignment.

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