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Lane Tech students take a stand against censorship

On Friday, students and faculty from Lane Tech College Prep gathered in front of the school to protest the Chicago School Board’s ban on the graphic novel Persepolis from their curriculum.

Dozens of Lane Tech students and teachers congregated at the corner of Addison and Western, holding signs that read “CPS VIOLATES 1ST AMENDMENT” and “READ BANNED BOOKS.” Throughout the protest, the crowd began different chants, such as “No banned books!” or “Free our books.”

Persepolis is a graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi which is an autobiographic account of what her life was like growing up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

The large turnout was especially pleasing to Alexa Repp, 17, a student at Lane Tech and one of the organizers of the protest.

“I’m definitely surprised at how many people are here, because this was a very last-minute thing,” she said. “We just finished talking about this yesterday and then this morning we were like ‘Alright, we need to do something about this.’”

Students and staff gather outside Lane Tech, waving handmade signs and copies of the book (Photo credit: Madeline Reynolds)
Students and staff gather outside Lane Tech, waving handmade signs and copies of the book (Photo credit: Madeline Reynolds)

On March 13, the CPS Network Instructional Support Leaders contacted the principal of Lane Tech, Christopher Dignam, and told him that copies of Persepolis must be removed from the library and could not be used in the classrooms. ChicagoTalks received a copy of that email, which states that these actions were taken based on a decision made March 11 at a Chief of Schools meeting.

In a follow-up letter, sent out to the schools and made public by CPS, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, a spokesperson for the board, says the book is not being banned but rather temporarily recalled in order to have training for teachers on how to handle the mature and graphic content and to assess which grade levels the book is appropriate for.

“I felt like it was a big, serious oppressive action, especially with no reason and unwarned like that,” Repp said. “They just walked in the middle of the week and took out the books. I was shocked. When you go to a school like Lane Prep, you don’t expect anything like that to happen, it’s a really liberal school.”

Lane Tech College Prep is a four-year public magnet high school with an academic center for 7th and 8th graders on Chicago’s north side. It is a selective admissions school that accepts 1,000 freshman applicants yearly out of the almost 12,000 who apply.

Another organizer of the event was Levi Todd, 16, who is a student and president Lane Tech’s banned books club, 451 degrees (named after Fahrenheit 451).

“By banning a book, you’re saying that someone doesn’t have a right to a voice,” Todd said. “And when you ban a book, you’re taking that voice away. A book like Persepolis, which is so brutally honest and based on true events, when you take it away from the grasp of children or teenagers you’re saying that this an element of history that we don’t want you to know about-that’s not worth knowing.”

One of the things that enthused the students the most was the amount of support they were getting from their teachers, who were equally angered by CPS’ actions. One of those teachers was Cynthia Smith, 61, who used the protest as a chance to also voice her anger about the dozens of public schools slated for possible closure in Chicago.

“We’re out here not only to protest the banning,” said Smith, “but also to send a message to the CPS board to stop stealing our schools.”

During the protest, a steady rain drizzled down on the students, parents and faculty gathered outside of the school, but it did not temper the group’s enthusiasm.

“I read the book, actually studied it in class, and I thought that since the book is about human rights, it should not be censored, “said Thomas Shmur, 17. ‘That type of freedom of expression should not be stopped.”

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