St. Johns County School Board votes not to ban 7 library books

Following a heated meeting on Tuesday, the St. Johns County School Board voted 3-2 against banning seven books challenged by the school’s parents from library shelves.

This is just the first batch of a total of 56 titles that school administrators are being asked to reconsider from the district’s collection of books that can be viewed during school hours or borrowed by students.

What will this mean for the other 49 books on the potential ban list?

We do not know yet.

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Here’s what the process looks like:

  • A book is flagged for review if even a parent or community member objects. The 56 books in question started at this level.
  • 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. This is the stage where the other 49 books are.
  • 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 sent to the school board, which makes the final decision. This final review was where the first seven books arrived.

School district attorney Frank Upchurch said to his knowledge this was the first time he could recall objections raised by parents about questionable documents reaching the level of school board review. .

Three of the four books discussed on Tuesday — “My Rainbow,” “Peanut Goes for the Gold” and “Ho’onani Hula Warrior” — are elementary.

The other four – “White Privilege”, “Me and White Supremacy”, “Boys Will be Boys”, and “All Boys Aren’t Blue” – are aimed at high school readers.

Hearing gets heated, divisive

After the parents who filed the complaints had a chance to explain their rationale — issues centering mostly on the graphic nature of the language and controversial topics like sexuality, gender identity and racial theory — the hearing was opened to public comment.

Several community members were kicked out by local law enforcement during Tuesday's school board hearing on library materials.

Over several hours of testimony, the meeting devolved into a vitriolic shouting match in which several members of the public were physically kicked out by local police.

Speakers on both sides of the issue were met with sneers, laughs and all-out swearing as they took to the podium, including parents, students, educators and community members.

Parent Kristen Diaz said she’s worried books like DeShanna Neal and Trinity Neal’s ‘My Rainbow’ about a child who identifies as transgender might look very appealing to young children just from the cover herself. Diaz said, however, that her kindergarten-aged daughter, who can read at the second-grade level, asked her what the term “cisgender” was – something she wasn’t ready to discuss with her. for the moment.

Others, including Tocoi Creek High School student Jayden Nassar, said they are books on sometimes controversial topics like LBGTQ issues where students can see themselves reflected. Nassar said a sense of inclusion is important, especially given the suicide rate among young people exploring their sexual identity.

Nassar, a junior, said removing titles like these amounted to censorship and that it concerned her.

“It could be a slippery slope,” Nassar said.

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About halfway through the proceedings, several members of the public were notified of their disturbances before tensions erupted and St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office deputies escorted those people out of the Council chamber.

Council votes to keep books

In the end, school board member Kelly Barrera brought forward a motion asking the board to remove the controversial titles from school libraries, which was seconded by Beverly Slough. Patrick Canan, Anthony Coleman and Bill Mignon opposed the measure.

Barrera cited “age mismatch” as the reason for his decision.

But other board members, including Mignon, said they were worried about the precedent the action could set, with district leaders having to attend many more hearings every time documents could be handed over. in question.

Coleman said he fears the restriction of certain books will limit students’ potential to “be who they can be, even if they don’t know what it is yet.”

Canan added: “There is a process. I mean, we have media specialists who are trained to do this (keep books for students).”

Barrera introduced a second motion to keep the books behind the library counter and available only upon request by a consenting student and/or parent. Canan countered by saying that if no one knew the books were there, it was almost the same as removing them.

“It’s not consistent,” Canan said.

The motion failed 4-1, but could be discussed at an upcoming board workshop.

Twelve of the remaining 49 disputed books will be picked up before the end of the school year by a district committee.

These meetings, publicly noticed, are open to the public but usually take place on Zoom.

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