LAKELAND, Fla. — The future of 16 books pulled from the shelves of Polk County Public Schools school libraries could be decided by school board members in two Tuesday meetings.
In a business session at 3:30 p.m., Superintendent Frederick Heid is expected to share his recommendation with the board to return the 16 books to library shelves to “age-appropriate” capacities. Some of the titles would be reserved for older classes.
At a 5 p.m. board meeting, board members could vote to accept or reject Heid’s recommendation. Additionally, board members could choose not to vote at all.
The books have sparked often heated and intense debate between those who claim they are important works of literature and those who believe they are unsuitable for a student audience.
Books include the harrowing story of an abused young black girl who experiences racism and sexual abuse, “The Bluest Eye”; an illustrated guide to puberty, gender and LGBTQ identity, “It’s Perfectly Normal”; and the traumatic story of an Afghan boy, “The Kite Runner”. Library books are not “required reading” for Polk County students.
At a meeting on April 26, more than a dozen speakers argued that the books should be permanently removed from school library shelves. One speaker compared the books to rat poison and said that while they are considered art and literature – and include innocuous parts – they also include explicit passages that could corrupt the mind. young students.
“Why would you do that?” another speaker, Paul Hatfield, asked the council. “Why would you mess their minds with that crap?”
In January, the County Citizens Defending Freedom (CCDF), a conservative group that said its mission was to “hold local governments accountable,” challenged the books, although the actual challenge forms were filled out by people in the area. other counties, according to one district. spokesperson. The petitioners argued that the books violate Florida law that prohibits the distribution of material on school campuses that is “harmful to minors.”
As a result, the books were quickly removed from the shelves of district school libraries to allow the district to formally review them.
Over the next few months, two 18-member panels made up of educators, students, activists and parents reviewed the 16 titles in a structured and transparent process.
Some, like Kathy Bucklew – a member of one of the panels and a representative of the CCDF – have argued that books like “The Kite Runner” are unsuitable for a student audience.
“For me, the first clue that it’s not suitable for children under 18 was…when words were used that CARA – the Ratings and Ratings Administration for Motion Pictures – generally reserves for NC- 17 – no one under 18 is allowed,” she said. on March 10 a review of the novel.
However, the vast majority of panelists seemed to agree that the books have literary and educational value.
“It’s a coming-of-age story told from the beginning to the end of life, and there are so many messages about compassion and atonement,” said Nicole Grassel-Torres, teacher and Haines City High School panelist, during the same discussion on “The Kite” in March.
In the end, panelists voted to have all 16 books return to libraries in various “age-appropriate” capacities.
In his recommendations to the school board, Superintendent Heid overwhelmingly agreed with the panelists’ votes.
His recommendation, overall, maintains the 16 books at the grade levels where they were available before the review. However, his recommendation would restrict two of the books — currently available in middle and high school — to high school students only, “Nineteen Minutes” and “The Bluest Eye.” His recommendation would restrict another book currently available for students of all grades — “Drama” — to middle and high school students. It would expand access to two more titles, “George” and “More Happy Than Not”.
“I think what we’ve done is acted in good faith to honor grade level expectations, allowing parents to make informed decisions,” Heid told council members during an April 26 business session.
According to the school district, at Tuesday’s board meeting, the board could vote to accept or reject the superintendent’s recommendation. Council members could also choose to do nothing.
“The school board is responsible for adopting the curriculum/teaching materials and any other supplements used as part of basic education. Schools have always been responsible for adopting media materials,” district communications director Jason Geary wrote in an email to ABC Action News. “As such, the school board is not required to vote on the superintendent’s recommendations.”
See the full list of the Superintendent’s recommendations below:
Additionally, the superintendent said a parent already has the ability to limit their student’s access to any library books they deem inappropriate.
“What we will allow is that there will be an electronic connection where parents can connect. They will be able to connect to their child’s school and they will be able to see all the books in a current library. Parents can then make an informed decision and remove their child from certain books by clicking and checking the boxes next to them,” Heid said.
He added that the process will be simplified and widely publicized before the start of the 2022-2023 school year.
According to a recent I-Team survey, across the country, the number of books challenged last year at libraries, schools and universities reached 729, a record according to the American Library Association.
Across Florida, ABC Action News found — while school districts received challenges — that the majority of districts are not inundated with book challenges or subsequent removals of books from library shelves.