Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District Trustees are expected to decide tonight if a graphic novel about life during the Iranian revolution will be part of the curriculum for high school students.

Tonight’s vote comes almost a month after Trustee Leandra Blades at the March 14 meeting expressed concern with some of the language used in the book towards women, which sparked fears of a book ban among some parents, students and another Trustee.

[Read: Will a Local OC School District Ban an Iranian Revolution Book?]

The book is titled “Persepolis: The Story of Childhood” – named after the capital of the Ancient Persian Empire – and depicts the life of author Marjane Satrapi growing up in Iran during the overthrow of the Shah and the Iranian revolution in the late 1970s, which led to the country becoming an Islamic Republic.

But some parents, like Brooke Harper, worry students will not get to read the book as part of the district’s curriculum.

“Two years ago, students came and asked them specifically to diversify the texts that we use in our district and they have done nothing in response,” Harper said in a Friday phone interview.

“We have this opportunity to bring this award-winning book by a person of color, by a person who experienced these things firsthand and it seems that they’re not going to approve this book.”

That’s not the only controversial item Placentia-Yorba Linda School District officials are expected to consider at their 6 p.m. meeting tonight.

Blades’ concerns have paved the way for a majority of trustees to call for greater involvement in the book vetting and selection process for instructional materials for students – a move she says increases transparency for parents.

They are expected to consider revising their book selection policy to require a board vote before piloting a book in the district at the request of Trustee Todd Frazier.

“Adding one step of board review prior to literature being piloted in classrooms with our students is a very easy way to ensure students and parents get the level of education and instructional oversight they deserve. It doesn’t take the process out of anyone’s hands,” Frazier wrote in a Friday email.

But critics of the book vetting proposal, like Harper, say it’s a step that could lead to book bans.

Is It a Book Ban?

While some people in the district raise concerns of a book ban over Persepolis, some trustees are taking issue with that characterization.

Frazier said the word “ban” is being used as a political tool to silence opposition.

“People defining a vote on literature adoption for curriculum a ‘ban on books’ is grossly inaccurate. If that was true, any vote against literature, no matter what the book contained, would then be considered banning books,” Frazier wrote.

He said trustees should focus on the educational merit of the materials brought before them.

“My biggest concern about Persepolis is whether the style and content rise to the level of educational literature. It’s a ‘graphic novel’ which presents like a comic book. I believe we should challenge our students with the best we have to offer,” Frazier wrote.

Two students who were part of the pilot program for the Iranian revolution book previously told the Voice of OC the inclusion of a graphic novel to the curriculum brings variety to the type of material they have to read.

They didn’t want their names published out of fear of retribution from district officials and parents. 

In a Friday email, Blades said a book ban is when kids can not access a certain book. At the March meeting she said she had no issues with the book being available in school libraries.

She also said the graphic novel does not provide clear context for students to understand the revolution.

“If a student hasn’t learned about Iran in history yet, I don’t think this will help their understanding the way a novel would. There is some tough language and derogatory statements towards women in the book. We’ve had many parents express concerns about content and language in books. My question is, can we do better?” she wrote in the Friday email.

Harper called the move a book challenge – which to her is “just as dangerous and as much of a slippery slope as a ban.”

“When we’re thinking about Mark Twain and the fact that the N word appears in his books almost as many times as there are pages. Our trustees are not arguing in good faith,” she said.

Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is on the district’s core and extended reading list.

Trustee Carrie Buck also worries that not approving Persepolis for High School international baccalaureate students is a slippery slope.

“What will be removed or not adopted in the future?” Buck said in a Friday email.

Buck also said the book is timely given what is happening in Iran right now.

“This novel provides an opportunity to talk about these current events with students. Reading this book can help increase empathy and understanding about personal freedoms and what it means to lose your rights,” Buck wrote.

“I hope by reading this graphic novel, students gain understanding of others as well as an appreciation for the opportunities they have that other students may not have around the world.”

Last year, the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman detained by Iran’s notorious morality police for not properly wearing a headscarf, sparked a national uprising.

In response, cities across Orange County have been passing resolutions and making proclamations in support of the Iranian American community and condemning the country’s violent regime.

[Read: City Officials Across Orange County Are Taking a Stand Against Iran’s Violent Regime]

“When students learn about children and people in other parts of the world, it gives them better context for understanding what’s happening now,” Harper said.

Meanwhile, it’s not just people in the district worried about Persepolis not being approved for high school students.

PEN America, a literary rights organization, who pushed back on the district’s Critical Race Theory ban last year, is also concerned.

Kasey Meehan, the program director of Freedom to Read at PEN America, said books should be evaluated as a whole and not removed due to instances of vulgar language.

“We believe in a process that is open and fair when discussing what books should be on school shelves that relies on the expertise of education professionals to make decisions,” she wrote in a Friday email. 

“Based on what we know, it sounds like the School Board is interfering in curricula decisions based on the discomfort of a few individuals.”

The Book Vetting Process

Concerns are growing about Placentia Yorba Linda School Board Trustees becoming more involved in vetting curriculum materials that could circumvent existing processes.

Some parents like Harper worry that policy change will eliminate the voice of the district’s literature review committee and lead to book bans.

Blades said the proposed change will provide greater transparency and parents should be informed when a book is piloted and wants more student feedback after a book has been tested.

“Everything that goes wrong always falls back onto the school board and is ultimately our responsibility,” she wrote. “I rely heavily on educators to give me input and guidance on all types of decisions, and approving books and curriculum is definitely one of them.”

But her colleague, Buck, said the current process is rigorous and sound.

“We have administrators and teachers that are highly educated, have teaching credentials, and degrees in that subject area that are reading and evaluating our novels and texts,” Buck said in a Friday email.

She echoed Harper’s concerns about board approval in the book selection process.

“If the Board were to move up in the process then we are removing the valuable input we receive from our own staff who are education experts, as well as eliminating the ability for our students, parents and community to give input in the decision making process,” Buck said.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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