North Attleborough Superintendent says removed book to return to school libraries

Martin Elementary School. File Photo

On the evening of Jan. 22, residents, town councilors and state Rep. Adam Scanlon expressed their anger towards the decision to remove a book that featured poems written by women of color from the shelves of the North Attleborough schools. 

One day later, School Superintendent Dr. John Antonucci announced that  “Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice,” will again be available for students to read.

In an email sent to parents on Jan. 23, Antonucci said the decision to remove the book from library shelves would be reversed after listening to elected officials speak out against the decision. 

Removing the book

According to Antonucci, the parent of a Martin Elementary School student challenged the book’s circulation in libraries. The specific reason for the challenge has yet to be revealed. 

The book, written by Mahogany L. Browne, Olivia Gatwood and Elizabeth Acevedo, consists of poems about civil justice, racial justice, environmental justice, body positivity and other forms of activism—all authored by women of color. After receiving the complaint, Antonucci said that he and a committee consisting of a principal, a teacher, a parent, a librarian and the elementary school curriculum coordinator decided it would be best to move the book from the library to the teacher’s resource library, because it did not match Martin Elemetnary’s intended age group.

Upon hearing that the book was removed, there was outrage over the decision. In response, Antonucci announced that the book would return to library shelves immediately and that the procedure to remove books would be reviewed.

“Based on those discussions, it has become evident that we missed the mark, and it is clear that our policy and procedure needs to be re-evaluated,” Antonucci said. “I have determined that the right course of action is to restore the book’s place in our library.”

In a previous statement, Antonucci originally said the committee had deemed the title “unnecessarily divisive.” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word ‘woke’ describes someone or something aware of and pays attention to issues impacting society, specifically social and racial justice. 

The word has also been used negatively towards those who identify as politically liberal or progressive. 

Antonucci told parents he misspoke when he made those comments and apologized for his lack of clarity.

“That was incorrect,” Antonucci said. “I am truly sorry for this misstep in communication and I ordinarily pride myself on being a strong communicator.”

Those original comments were received with anger from Town Council members, specifically Darius Gregory—the only African American councilor. In response to the book’s removal, Gregory vowed not to attend any more council meetings until the book was restored and left a the Jan. 22 meeting in protest.

Reached on Tuesday, Gregory said he would return to meetings and was thankful to see the book back in circulation.

“I am glad that the school administration was able to realize the significance of removing the ban,” Gregory said. “However, it is bigger than just censorship and banning books. In this instance, it was about demonstrating a commitment to celebrating and embracing diversity in all forms.”

Scanlon, who criticized the book’s removal on Jan. 22, praised the decision to bring it back to shelves and said he looks forward to seeing changes preventing books from being removed from libraries.

“I’m glad the book is being placed on the shelves,” Scanlon said. “This serves as a teachable moment for us, and we hope that people truly feel sorry for their actions and understand why the decision to remove the book caused as many feelings as they did. I will continue to partner with Antonucci serving students in North Attleborough Public Schools.”