School district in Polk County, Florida removes sixteen books from school libraries

The National Coalition Against Censorship has written to Polk County Public Schools in Bartow, Florida over reports that sixteen books have been removed from district libraries pending a decision on challenges that the books are “harmful to minors”. The books in question include Beloved by Toni Morrison The bluest eye by Toni Morrison two boys kissing by David Levithan, The kite runner by Khaled Hosseini, Extremely loud and incredibly close by Jonathan Safran Foer, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher The Vincent boys by Abbi Glines, It’s perfectly normal by Robie Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley, real boyfriends live by E. Lockhart, lemon balm (formerly titled george) by Alex Gino, I am jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, Drama by Raina Telgemeier nineteen minutes by Jodi Picoult, happier than not by Adam Silvera, Things by Ellen Hopkins, and Almost perfect by Brian Katcher.

Along with the Authors Guild and PEN’s Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Committee, the NCAC urges the Polk County School Board to return disputed books to library shelves and to amend its dispute procedures to explicitly require that the books remain available to the students until the entire examination process. is complete. Whether the books are ultimately banned or not, the effect on current students is the same: they cannot access the books.

This case clearly demonstrates the importance of a thorough review. Allegations that the books in question are “harmful to minors” are baseless. A book can only be “harmful to minors” if it “taken as a whole is without serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors”. [See Florida Statute §847.001(6).] It seems extremely unlikely that professional educators have placed sixteen books that lack serious educational value on the shelves of district libraries.

District regulations are vague regarding the status of books under review. Although their policy states that “No disputed material may be removed from the program or from a collection of resource materials, except by decision of the Board”, district staff have determined that the books may be temporarily removed. Many districts, including many in Florida, have policies that explicitly state that disputed materials must remain in use while disputes are adjudicated.

The lack of a similar provision in Polk County encourages baseless disputes and hurts students in the district. Potential challengers know they can have books they personally dislike removed, at least temporarily, simply by filing a challenge, however unsubstantiated. The existing policy also opens the door to a challenge of a large number of books which can take months to decide.

Every book that has been selected for inclusion in district libraries has been judged by professional educators in the district to be valuable to students. Students suffer when they lose access to books, even temporarily.

The letter to the school board is below. Click here for a full screen view:

About Stuart M. McFarland

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