The national spotlight on book bans continues to intensify as school districts across the country pull pieces of literature from their shelves after receiving complaints about their explicit, sexual or age-inappropriate material.
In Florida, the conversation is extremely topical as lawmakers recently passed a bill, House Bill 1467, this would facilitate the removal of books from the shelves of school libraries. Legislation has now moved the Senate.
In Tampa Bay, some districts are experiencing book challenges or content complaints from parents. Some have checked out or revise specific books, while parents are frequently seen complaining about the material at school board meetings.
Most recently, Polk County Public Schools pulled 16 books from their shelves in January after County Citizens Defending Freedom, a conservative group, claimed the books violated state law against distribution. of “harmful material” to minors. The books were removed during the district review.
The book list includes “The Bluest Eye” and “Beloved” by Pulitzer Prize winner Toni Morrison, and the modern classic “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini.
But some officials have qualms about the potential elimination.
At a recent school board business meeting, Superintendent Frederick Heid told board members that the books in question had been checked out a total of 115 times at 48 schools since the start of the 2020/2021 school year. Some of the books were never borrowed during this time.
“If these are the books of greatest concern and they are unverified,” Heid said, “is there any justification in the argument that somehow these books expose students to content that goes against family values and other things and erodes our social system?”
Heid told members he thinks the students’ online activity might warrant closer inspection.
“The best argument is what is done to protect children in an online environment at home in their spare time, on their own personal devices, as there is a greater likelihood that they will access content this way than ‘They clearly are through these printed materials,’ says Heid.
Board member Sarah Fortney also challenged the removal of the books from district libraries. She said that while she supports the parents’ choice, this decision would affect all students in the district.
“We all have students, all kids, and it’s a bit of a shame that these titles aren’t accessible even though they haven’t been widely vetted,” she said. “I just want people to be aware when you ask for things like you know it affects all children, not just your child.
The district is setting up two committees that will review eight books each. It should take them about three months to complete the reviews.
Pinellas County also made headlines late last fall when the district pulled Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir” from general circulation at two of its high schools. Officials said the non-binary author’s coming-of-age graphic novel isn’t age-appropriate for all high school students.
Students at Lakewood High School fought the district’s decision, presenting the administration with a petition asking that the book be reinstated. They say the move was censorship and set back progress made by the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.
No other books have been removed in the past two years, according to district spokeswoman Isabel Mascareñas.
And in Hillsborough County, although there has been no formal pressure to remove the books from schools, parents frequently voice their concerns about the books at school board meetings.
At a recent meeting, Julie Gebhards spoke to the board about “explicit content” in district libraries, saying she is concerned about the welfare of students in the district. She began by detailing how Kacen Callender’s young adult novel “Felix Ever After” contains 66 “F-bombs” and was verified by a student at a local elementary school.
“It’s been a bit of a journey over the last nine months or so with my attending these meetings,” she told board members. “First the outrage of ‘The Bluest Eye’, with the pedophile describing his encounters with little girls. Then the discovery of so many more books. The number grows every day.
“The casualness of all kinds of encounters: sexual, drugs, alcohol. They are on our shelves by the thousands,” she added. “Again, what about the welfare of our children?”
District spokeswoman Erin Maloney notes that parents are raising concerns about specific books at meetings.
“We have a formal dispute process, but currently no parents have filed a book dispute in our district,” Maloney wrote. She added that the district had not removed any books in the past two years.
But in some Tampa Bay districts, those complaints haven’t surfaced.
The Manatee County District has not had any disputed books recently, district spokesman Michael Barber wrote in an email.
“We realize this is an issue that many school districts face, but so far it hasn’t really been an issue for us,” he said.
Similarly, in Sarasota County, the district has not heard any book complaints in recent times and has not removed any items from school libraries in the past two years.