A school district in Texas has fired a teacher who assigned eighth-grade students a graphic novel adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary.
The Hamshire-Fannett Independent School District’s communication coordinator, Mike Canizales, told KFDM-TV in Beaumont, Texas, that an unnamed teacher allowed students to read a version of “The Diary of Anne Frank” in class that was “not approved” by the district.
The school district, which is in Jefferson County, east of Houston, confirmed to HuffPost that it had hired a substitute teacher while it searches for a full-time replacement.
“As you may be aware, following concerns regarding curricular selections in your student’s reading class, a substitute teacher has been facilitating the class since Wednesday, September 13, 2023,” read an email sent to parents on Friday, which Canizales provided to HuffPost. “The District is currently in the process of posting the position to secure a high-quality, full-time teacher as quickly as possible. During this period of transition, our administrators and curriculum team will provide heightened support and monitoring in the reading class to ensure continuity in instruction.”
Anne Frank was a Jewish teenager who documented her thoughts and struggles during the Holocaust as she and her family hid in a secret annex in a house in Amsterdam. Her original diary, published in 1947, has been lauded by many educators, writers and scholars as essential reading.
“Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation” was written by Ari Folman, whose parents survived the Holocaust, and it was illustrated by David Polonsky. It details an experience in which Anne Frank walked through a park that displayed nude female statues and a conversation in which she asked a friend that they each show each other their breasts, The Associated Press reported in April. It also includes a section where she discusses both male and female genitalia, according to the Post.
The New York Times Book Review wrote that the illustrated book is “so engaging and effective that it’s easy to imagine it replacing the [original diary] in classrooms and among younger readers.” Its target audience is listed on Amazon as students from eighth through 12th grade.
The school district claims the book was unapproved, but KDFM reported that the book was on an approved list that had been sent to parents at the start of the school year. An investigation is underway, the district’s communication coordinator told KDFM.
Anne Frank Fonds, based in Basel, Switzerland, the organization that published the graphic novel, condemned book banning in an email to HuffPost.
“The graphic adaptation of the diary is based on the text of a 12-year-old girl in the 1940s. Since its first publication, the diary has repeatedly come under fire from ideological groups,” the foundation wrote. “The girl, who never knew freedom in today’s sense, stood up for it in her texts and dreamed of it.”
“The Anne Frank Fonds Basel observes with increasing concern that, in addition to bans on the text in dictatorships, idéologie-soaked bans on books of world literature are now also increasingly being implemented in the free world, threatening the achievements of enlightenment,” the publisher said.
The district’s firing falls in line with the conservative-led nationwide push to ban books that mention race, sex education and gender identity. Texas has been at the forefront of this book-banning effort and has had the most attempts to ban books in schools when compared to other states, according to a 2022 report by the American Library Association.
Books like Frank’s diary or “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale” by Art Spiegelman, a graphic novel about the Holocaust, have been the target of conservatives in the last several years. Parents who have complained about Holocaust literature and the school boards that have banned them have often cited foul language or nudity in such works. But historians and librarians see it as a larger attack on teaching students the truth about racial injustice and antisemitism.
In 2021, a Texas lawmaker made a list of approximately 850 books and distributed it to school districts around the state, demanding to know whether schools had any of the listed books on its shelves. Last May, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law that bans books with “sexually explicit” material. Educators and other critics have said the law is vague.
In an era when conservatives are seeking to discredit teachers, reading a book is no longer a routine part of an educator’s day but can now become a punishable offense.
In the last year alone, a fifth-grade teacher in Georgia was terminated after reading “My Shadow Is Purple” by Scott Stuart, a children’s book that deals with gender identity, to her students. In South Carolina, students complained after a high school teacher included Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” in an Advanced Placement Language Arts class because the Republican-controlled state legislature had banned classroom discussions on systemic racism. And in Louisiana, a school librarian was threatened online after speaking out against censorship.