BARTOW — According to Polk County Public Schools Superintendent Frederick Heid, in her first conversation Dec. 10 with the county’s Citizen Education Division Chief and Executive Assistant Kayla Church, she shared “concerns” about 16 book titles his group deemed inappropriate for children.
But when those concerns were elevated Jan. 25 to possible violations of two Florida laws, with the possibility of librarians or district officials being arrested, Heid cited a long-running process to review the books.
“Our typical process would allow for a book to be challenged at the individual school level,” Heid said in an email to The Ledger. “When notified of a challenge, the school will endeavor to convene a committee – made up of parents – to review the book and make a final recommendation on whether to maintain or withdraw the book. If the committee of the school determines the book should be withheld, there is an appeal process that would elevate the review to the district level.”
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Because it involved books in dozens of schools, Heid immediately applied the process to a district review of the books, in accordance with district policy.
“This state’s policy for the selection of school library materials provides that any parent, guardian, student with parental consent, community member, or district employee may formally challenge library materials used in the district’s educational program” , states the policy. policy also allows people in the school or school community who are not directly involved in the selection of library materials to voice their opinions.
The complainant must then complete a “Document Review Request Form”. If they don’t, “no further consideration is required.”
But the CCDF did not fill out a form for Polk County Public Schools. Instead, Church gave the superintendent more than 130 pages of documents, filled out by and using a rubric developed by the Naples-based Florida Citizens Alliance. This group had volunteers across the state who read 58 books and wrote down their issues with each, ranging from age inappropriate to pornography to “indoctrination” of students into the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.
According to the district’s own policy, “the material in question shall not be removed from use during the review period.” But Heid ordered the documents to be “quarantined”. When asked why he removed the books, Heid said it was because the CCDF accused the district of violating several Florida laws and its employees were at risk of arrest and felony charges. .
“The escalation from a ‘concern’ that a book is offensive to an allegation that we are breaking the law justifies the need to remove these books and conduct a district-level review,” Heid said. “As Superintendent, I am obligated to investigate any allegation that we will be breaking the law. Both statutes cited state that such allegations could result in a felony charge for each occurrence. As such, I feel I must protect my staff from the possibility of possible criminal charges.Holding their distribution ensures that my staff is protected while this review process takes place.
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► Read the group’s specific complaints here.
He said he also decided to do a district review of the books to save multiple schools from having to review some of the same books.
“Their decisions could also face other challenges, which would ultimately result in district-level review,” Heid said. “We need to do a thorough review that reassures us that we are taking these issues seriously. We also need to do this with transparency so the community can have confidence in this process and its end result.”
The district is convening a committee to review the 16 books. The list of committee members for a school challenge is supposed to include:
- The principal or the person designated by the principal.
- Library media specialist or media paraprofessional II.
- Teachers (at least two) – Secondary schools should have an English/Language Arts teacher.
- Parents (at least two; one can be a school staff member who has a child attending the school).
- Students, if applicable (grades 6-12 only).
School district spokesman Jason Geary said neither Heid nor any school board member would sit on the committee.
Heid said committee meetings will be public meetings and videotaped. District policy states that the complainant may attend, but only as an observer.
“All meetings will be open,” Heid said. “These meetings will be announced if members of the public wish to attend. The meetings will also be recorded and posted for the community to view. orderly and fair.”
The policy states that “this committee must meet and make a decision within two weeks of the date of the initial complaint”. It has been nearly two weeks since the CCDF claimed that PCPS violated state law.
Finally, district policy states that all committee members must participate and vote on:
- Keep this article in all schools.
- Retain this item only at Polk County Middle and High Schools.
- Retain this item only at Polk County High Schools.
- Removal of this article in all schools.
Ledger reporter Kimberly C. Moore can be reached at [email protected] or 863-802-7514. Follow her on Twitter at @KMooreTheLedger.