Polk County Public Schools Superintendent Frederick Heid will brief school board members Tuesday during an afternoon business session on the implementation of a new policy that addresses 16 books of a conservative group deemed “pornographic” or “age inappropriate” earlier this year.
Heid will present on new procedures, a hybrid membership option for all 16 books, as well as an opt-out procedure already in place for each book in each of the 150 schools in the district. Heid had previously discussed the hybrid system in May, developed based on feedback from school board members and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.
Books will not be returned to library shelves, but will instead be kept in an area accessible only to librarians.
Watch a presentation showing how Superintendent Heid’s proposal would work for parents. You can see it here or at the end of this article.
School board members will not vote this Tuesday and there will be no public input during the afternoon business session. Members of the public can, however, voice their opinion at the end of Tuesday evening’s school board meeting.
Last year, the Florida Citizens Alliance released a report of 58 books found in various public school libraries across the state that its members deemed inappropriate and why.
Florida Citizens Alliance and County Citizens Defending Freedom say 16 of the 58 books are in PCPS libraries and complain that they “are not age-appropriate and over-sexualize children, violating many Florida laws.”
The issue came to a boil in late January, when Heid was informed that the school district could violate state laws prohibiting the distribution of pornography or “harmful material” to minors and that librarians could face charges of crime each time one of these books was checked.
The superintendent moved the morning of Jan. 25 to “quarantine” those books until they could be reviewed by two committees the school district formed for that purpose. They read books and made recommendations throughout the spring.
The 16 books and grade levels for which both committees and the superintendent have approved them are:
- “Two Boys Kissing” by David Levithan – middle and high school;
- “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini – middle and high school;
- “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer – high school;
- “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher – middle and high school;
- “The Vincent Boys” by Abbi Glines – high school;
- “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley – high school;
- “Real Live Boyfriends” by E. Lockhart – high school;
- “George” by Alex Gino — all levels;
- “I am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings – elementary school;
- “Drama” by Raina Telgemeier – middle and high school;
- “Nineteen minutes” by Jodi Picoult – high school;
- “More Happy Than Not” by Adam Silvera – middle and high school;
- “Beloved” by Toni Morrison – high school;
- “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison – high school;
- “Tricks” by Ellen Hopkins – high school;
- And “Almost Perfect” by Brian Katcher – high school.
Of the 16 titles reviewed, only titles appropriate for the child’s grade level will appear for parents to enroll in.
School board member Lynn Wilson said he and the CCDF, which also oppose students wearing masks and the district’s sex-ed curriculum, were concerned about passages in some of the books that graphically depicted rape forced and passages that graphically depicted bestiality.
“I read a handful and had to stop. I was saddened. It was disheartening, it was horrific, the dehumanization, the defilement of humans and it was violent,” Wilson said at a school board meeting earlier this year. “The passages I read had that effect on me.”
Wilson also said that if some of the books in question were movies they would have an “R” or “NC-17” rating, so he didn’t understand why children were allowed to read them, adding that he should perhaps be have a book filing system.
According to the Motion Picture Association’s web page, the Motion Picture Association’s Classification and Rating Administration “issues ratings for films commercially exhibited and distributed to the public in the United States, for the purpose of providing parents with information about content of these movies. , to help them determine if individual movies are suitable for their children.
Review committees, made up of teachers, psychologists, parents, students, and CCDF members, looked at nearly a dozen things about each book, starting with age and grade level. . They also considered:
- Will reading or listening to this work lead to a more compassionate understanding of human beings?
- Does this work provide an opportunity to better understand and appreciate the aspirations, achievements and problems of different cultures and/or minority groups without emphasizing differences of class, race, color, gender , education, religion or philosophy in a negative way?
- Are the questionable elements of this work part and parcel of a valid theme, message, or attempt to develop a character?
- In what way(s) does this work support and promote the educational goals and objectives of Polk County Public Schools?
- In what way(s) are the concepts presented in a manner appropriate to the ability and maturity of your suggested audience?
- How does the material make a significant contribution to the history of ideas?
- Is the information in this book current and/or accurate to the best of your knowledge?
- Are the illustrations appropriate, in good taste with respect to the developmental age of the students?
- Could the work be considered offensive because of profanity, brutality, sexual behavior, violence, cruelty, hateful behavior, political positions, representation of social groups, representation of religious groups?
Groups should also assess the literary intent of the works.
One issue Heid mentioned at a spring school board meeting was how many of the 16 books are actually read by students. The (illustrated) graphic novel “Drama,” about a middle school musical and the angst of teen romance, has been viewed 527 times at more than 50 schools. Jay Asher’s “Thirteen Reasons Why,” about teenage suicide, has been viewed 70 times at more than a dozen schools.
But five of the books weren’t checked out at all in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years. They are:
- “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robi H. Harris;
- “Two Boys Kissing” by David Levithan;
- “Tips” by Ellen Hopkins;
- “Almost Perfect” by Brian Katcher;
- and “The Vincent Boys” by Abbi Glines.
PCPS Libraries currently use a computer system called Destiny that allows parents to check out their children from individual books. Additionally, parents can discuss alternate assignments with teachers if they feel something is not appropriate for their child. But many said the Destiny system was cumbersome, so Heid asked district staff to work on a tech fix for it.
The Tuesday, July 26 business session will take place at the Jim Miles Professional Development Center, just north of the Highland City stoplight at 4270 Wallace Road. It is scheduled from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The school council meeting begins at 5 p.m. at the same place.
Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning journalist from Lakeland. She can be reached at [email protected]