Amid an ongoing debate over library materials and parental controls in St. Johns County schools, school board members recently voted 3-2 to keep eight books that had been challenged by a parent. of the county, some with restrictions.
School board members, district officials and local parents argue over how to manage school library content. Controversy primarily surrounds the sexually graphic nature of certain language and topics in the books, such as gender identity, racial theory, rape, and child abuse.
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Another discussion:7 books that passed the school board review in May
After a parent objected to the content of eight books available at district libraries, a district advisory committee reviewed the books and made recommendations. Superintendent Tim Forson accepted the committee’s recommendations. The parent appealed Forson’s decision to the school board. The board has the power to remove or restrict the books, or to retain them without restriction.
Here are the books and rulings, along with where they are available now, according to district spokesperson Christina H. Upchurch:
- “Thirteen Reasons Why,” by Jay Asher: For grades eight and up. The book is only available in high schools. A note will be added to the school district’s online catalog: “Topics include suicide, bullying, gossip, sexual assault, voyeurism, underage drinking, revenge, survivor guilt If anything in this book bothers you, the school counselor is available to discuss it with you.”
- “The Breakaways”, by Cathy Johnson: Limited to sixth grade and up, but the book is only available in middle and high schools.
- “Lucky”, by Alice Sebold: 11th and 12th grade, but the book is only available in high schools. Note in the online catalog: “Emotional content. If anything in this book bothers you, the school counselor is available to discuss it with you.”
- “Sold Out”, by Patricia McCormick: Restricted to eighth grade and above, but the book is only available to high schools.
- “The Benefits of Being a Wallflower”, by Stephen Chbosky: preserved without restriction.
- “This book is anti-racist”, by Tiffany Jewell: retained without restriction, but the book is only available in colleges and high schools.
- “A Court of Frost and Starlight”, by Sarah Maas: parental authorization required for departure. The book is only available in high schools.
- “The Bluest Eye”, by Toni Morrison: retained without restriction, but the book is only available in high schools.
School board members Bev Slough and Kelly Barrera voted against the motion to keep the books with the recommended restrictions. Fellow school board members Patrick Canan, Anthony Coleman and Bill Mignon voted for the motion.
A process is in place for filing complaints about school library materials:
- A book is flagged for review if even a parent or community member objects.
- Books are then submitted to a school advisory committee of administrators, teachers, and parents who review title merit, age, language, and potential content/harmfulness. This committee recommends keeping or withdrawing the book.
- The complainant may appeal the SCC’s recommendation and, if so, it is forwarded to a district committee made up of administrators.
- The district committee makes a recommendation, which can also be appealed. At this point, the book would be reviewed by the superintendent who makes his own decision.
- The complainant can then appeal the Superintendent’s decision. In the event of an appeal, the book is forwarded to the school board, which makes the final decision.
The school district’s media centers have more than 600,000 books, said Dawn Sapp, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
The school district is reviewing all of its procedures for developing its library collections, and the district has suspended adding new titles as part of that process, Sapp said. The Florida Department of Education will provide training on selection and maintenance of library media collections to all media specialists by July 2023, she said.
Superintendent Tim Forson and school board members expressed support for parents’ choice and agreed that more needs to be done to alert parents to books whose content may not be desirable for their children.
“I’m just going to say categorically that I disagree with the content that we heard today… But what discourages me and bothers me the most is the fact that it is very difficult, really, for a parent to easily know if there are any restrictions on books right now,” Slough said, adding that she supports having a restricted book list on each school’s website.
School board member Kelly Barrera said she thinks parents should sign up so children can view and read books that contain sexually explicit material.
As part of the meeting, school board attorney Frank Upchurch said he disagreed with the characterization of the debate as being about book bans and censorship. The school board is responsible for the content of school libraries and has “considerable discretion” to decide which materials should be added and to provide guidelines on those materials, he said. Constitutionally, content can be banned for factors such as vulgarity and offensiveness, but not for “partisan ideological or political reasons”, he said.
Some board members have expressed concern that the door is opening to restricting or banning the books.
School board member Patrick Canan said he believed the concerns about the equipment were warranted and should be addressed.
But, he added, “I think that’s a really dangerous slope for a school board.”
He pointed out that council had spent more than four hours considering the matter.
“And the danger to me is that if a parent doesn’t like a book or a paragraph or a sentence or a word and wants to challenge it, we’ll be here doing that every month for hours…For for me, it doesn’t work.” it doesn’t make much sense,” he said.
He added that he believes in parental rights and supports the creation of a better warning system for parents about content that could be offensive.
But, he said, “I think once you get a book out, you open Pandora’s box. I don’t think you can dismiss the literary value. Some of these books and some of these subjects are very useful for children who are not”. not like other kids,” he said.
Board member Bill Mignon said teachers’ concerns about what is or will be restricted information in classrooms has hurt morale. He said he supported the trust of school district staff to manage the books to be collected and restricted. He also expressed concern that the quality of education for children is being compromised as materials and the free exchange of ideas are restricted.
“I am concerned about what is happening to education today. … I strongly believe that we need to look carefully at the challenges we face because I think most of them are political, and some of the laws that are passed today are political,” he said. “That’s all they are.”