The state-required update of the Volusia County Schools policy governing how school-library books are selected has sparked alternating rounds of furor. First, vocal parents urged the School Board to go beyond what state law required. Then, school media specialists across Volusia County — both active and retired — bristled in response.
At the heart of the matter is content that parents’ rights activists label “sexually explicit.”
New state laws have created a formal process for any Florida resident to challenge a school-library book and, in Volusia County, 77 books were challenged. That list was whittled down to 19 after review by school-district officials, Volusia County Schools Deputy Superintendent Rachel Hazel said.
The 19 books the reconsideration committees have voted to keep in Volusia County high schools:
All Boys Aren’t Blue – George Johnson
Black Flamingo, The – Dean Atta
Burned – Ellen Hopkins
Crank – Ellen Hopkins
Darius the Great Deserves Better – Adib Khorra
Fade – Lisa McMann
Flamer – Mike Curalo
Glass – Ellen Hopkins
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter – Erika Sanchez
I’ll Give You the Sun – Jandy Nelson
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me – Mariko Tamaki
Looking for Alaska – John Green
Out of Darkness – Ashley Hope Perez
Sold – Patricia McCormick
The Infinite Moment of Us – Lauren Myracle
The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
TTFN – Lauren Myracle
TTYL – Lauren Myracle
YOLO – Lauren Myracle
Media specialists say the books are carefully selected after a rigorous vetting process, and the content is appropriate. Further, if there is objectionable material, there are already processes in place to review the content, and parents can sign a form stipulating that their children are not allowed to go to the school media center.
At their Feb. 28 meeting, many School Board members seemed mostly amenable to tightening the book-selection process beyond the requirements of state law.
“The laws are gonna get harder, they’re gonna get more descriptive — they figured out they didn’t go far enough,” Board Member Ruben Colón said. “You know, this is for anybody who thinks this is going away: It’s not. If you think the book should be on the shelves, then you might as well move out of Florida.”
The School Board tabled the policy update until March 28, when a workshop will be held.
But at the next School Board meeting, on March 7, media specialists and parents spoke up in favor of keeping the books. Some bristled at the implied criticism of their work.
Maria O’Brien, a librarian who has helped Atlantic High School’s library earn the distinction of a Florida Power-Library School, which recognizes outstanding school-library programs, addressed the School Board.
“I came here, stood here with you, took photos, and believed for a moment that you stood with me. I thought you were proud of me, proud of my school — one of the three in this district who currently hold this designation,” O’Brien said. “I feel like I’ve been attacked.”
“I think I can speak for my fellow media specialists when I say that we are in this because we care about kids and we want what’s best for them. When extremist groups say harmful things about educators and media specialists, they’re not only trying to discredit our education and our career, but also our humanity,” Jackie Crawford, a media specialist with Discovery Elementary, said.
Riley Kellogg, a 10th-grader at DeLand High School, also spoke at the March 7 meeting during the time reserved for public comment.
“I don’t like that books are being removed from school libraries merely because they are deemed as inappropriate by a small population of people who attempt to force their opinions on others,” Kellogg told the School Board. “I don’t want to have someone else dictate what I can and can’t read based on an arbitrary set of criteria. There is enough of that for predetermined curriculums on standardized testing.”
The 19 books left on the challenge list are currently under “reconsideration,” and 19 “book reconsideration committees” — one per book — have met to give recommendations about whether the books should remain in any school library. Each of the committees is made up of nine members, including six representatives from various school positions (including a principal and two teachers) and three community members.
Included in the materials assembled for use by the committees is a rating system designed by a website called BookLooks, which details “objectionable content, including: profanity, nudity, and sexual content,” according to the website. The website is spearheaded by members of the Moms for Liberty group, a parents’ rights organization that formed in the wake of the school mask debate. The group has turned its attention to media libraries.
State law definitions
■ “Harmful to minors” Any reproduction, imitation, characterization, description, exhibition, presentation, or representation, of whatever kind or form, depicting nudity, sexual conduct, or sexual excitement when it: (a) Predominantly appeals to a prurient, shameful, or morbid interest; (b) Is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material or conduct for minors; and (c) Taken as a whole, is without serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.
■ “Obscene” The status of material which: (a) The average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; (b) Depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct as specifically defined herein; and (c) Taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
■ “Sexually oriented material” Any book, article, magazine, publication, or written matter of any kind or any drawing, etching, painting, photograph, motion picture film, or sound recording that depicts sexual activity, actual or simulated, involving human beings or human beings and animals, that exhibits uncovered human genitals or the pubic region in a lewd or lascivious manner, or that exhibits human male genitals in a discernibly turgid state, even if completely and opaquely covered.
The committees, which met in the first two weeks of March, have overwhelmingly voted in each instance to retain the books in high schools. Volusia County Schools Superintendent Carmen Balgobin will make the final recommendation about the books to the School Board, which will make the final decision about the books.
The School Board’s workshop on the book-selection policy is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, followed by a regular School Board meeting at 4:30 p.m. in the boardroom of the DeLand Administrative Complex, 200 N. Clara Ave., when Balgobin is expected to deliver her recommendations about the books.