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Albemarle's Book Removal Decision Receives National Criticism

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The national and even international spotlight is on the Albemarle County School Board's decision to yank a detective novel from classroom curriculum because of its negative portrayal of Mormons.

Sixth-graders at Henley Middle School in Crozet won't see the Sherlock Holmes novel "A Study in Scarlet" on their reading list this year and First Amendment advocates nationwide are voicing their criticism of the board's decision.

The headlines say it all. "Book Banning is Alive and Well in Virginia" reads Forbes.com, where a contributor writes "I find all book banning offensive and immoral".

"This is an absurd decision," expressed University of Virginia Law Professor G. Edward White.

White criticizes Albemarle County School Board's decision to remove "A Study in Scarlet" from the sixth grade reading list at Henley Middle School, after a parent argued its anti-Mormon themes.

"To assume a group of children in the Albemarle County schools would be vulnerable to these sorts of messages would suggest they'd be vulnerable to violence in a Tom & Jerry cartoon," White said.

The board's decision is getting negative press nationwide. A Los Angeles Times commentary says perhaps the board "could use the book to teach a lesson about forgiveness."

The story is also making international news from Canada to its author's native England.

Albemarle School Board Chairman Steve Koleszar stated, "People see the headlines and they jump to conclusions. They don't appreciate the amount of hard work and process we went through to reach that decision."

Koleszar stands by the board's compromise that the book will remain in school libraries, just not sixth-grade curriculum.

"I'm not a book banner," said Koleszar. "Occasionally, you come across a book like this that's not really appropriate for sixth graders."

But Professor White says the board better be ready to back up its decision if challenged in court.  "As a matter of Constitutional law, anyone could file suit and win the suit to reinstate the book," he said.

The director of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library system says a side effect of this decision is that people have checked out every copy of "A Study in Scarlet" since this hoopla began.

The board is already on the radar for next year's muzzle awards from the Thomas Jefferson Center for disregarding the First Amendment.