Distributive policy

Schools policy for checkout of controversial library books moves to exclusion only

Superintendent Frederick Heid decided to return to an unsubscribe process for all library books in Polk County public school libraries, including 16 books, some deemed pornographic or age-inappropriate.

“The system we have in place for this year allows parents to opt out of any books they choose,” PCPS spokesperson Kyle Kennedy said. “The 16 books that were challenged last (school) year are highlighted in the new system, making it easy for families to opt out if they wish.”

Kennedy said the process the district developed over the summer to back out is explained in a video on the district’s back to school guide at www.polkschoolsfl.com/backtoschool or below:

Heid had discussed at a July 26 business session both an unsubscribe process for library materials and a separate opt-in process for the 16 books, which cover topics such as transgender identity, homosexuality, child rape, sex with minors, school shootings, racism. , and, in two brief passages from a book by Toni Morrison, bestiality.

Following complaints made to Heid by several board members during and after the July 26 business session and school board meeting, Heid reverted to the school district’s original policy that allows parents to opt out of any books. or books they don’t want their child to read. . These board members included School Board Chair Sara Beth Wyatt, School Board Vice Chair Lisa Miller, Sarah Fortney and Kay Fields. The board was not required to vote on the measure.

“The majority of board members have not expressed support for an onboarding process,” PCPS spokesman Jason Geary said in a message to LkldNow this morning. “They made this known during their public comments during the May 10 working session. Heid explored what those two processes might look like to give more information to the board, but their direction on this was clear. Therefore, an opt-out-only process has been finalized and is currently in place for parents/guardians to use if they wish.

A short story

Last year, the Florida Citizens Alliance released a report on 58 books the group found in various public school libraries across the state that it deemed inappropriate and why. The report is downloadable in PDF format.

Florida Citizens Alliance and County Citizens Defending Freedom reported to the school district that 16 of the 58 books were found in PCPS libraries and complained that they “are age inappropriate and over-sexualize children, violating many Florida laws “.

CCDF members met with Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd and Heid late last year to complain about the books. Judd recommended placing controversial books behind librarians’ desks and making them an optional selection.

The issue came to a boil in late January, when CCDF members told Heid that the school district might be violating state laws prohibiting the distribution of pornography or “harmful material” to minors and that librarians might face it. to felony charges each time. these books have been verified.

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.

Committee members included educators, community stakeholders – including CCDF members – mental health experts, parents and high school students.

Committee members read each book and held public meetings to discuss them from March to May. The committees recommended keeping all books on library shelves at appropriate age levels, with some slight modifications to their placement at the school level. Heid then made the final decision on which grade levels to keep.

Books

The 16 books and grade levels for which the superintendent has approved them are:

“PCPS is committed to empowering parents and guardians to decide whether their children can access these or any other books in their school library,” the district’s website says. “The Library and Media Materials Checkout process was created over the summer and provides parents and guardians with a convenient way to see a list of all the materials available in their child’s school library, and they can “opt out” of any books they find objectionable.

District officials added that the unsubscribe feature “ensures that your child does not have access to any material that you find objectionable” and noted:

  • Parents and guardians will have two opportunities each year to complete the opt-out process. One opportunity takes place in August and the other in December.
  • If this process is not completed by the specified date, by default the system will allow your child to have access to all of their school’s media.
  • If a student changes schools or is newly enrolled in the school district, their parents and guardians will have 10 business days (14 calendar days) to make their opt-out choices.
  • Parents and guardians should contact media personnel or school administrators for further assistance.
  • Only custodial parents can complete the opt-out. If a parent has custody and cannot see the list of books, they will need to contact the school’s terminal operator for help linking their account.

According to a school district spreadsheet, the (illustrated) graphic novel “Drama,” about a middle school musical and the angst of teen novels, had been viewed 527 times at more than 50 schools over the past few years. last two school years. Jay Asher’s “Thirteen Reasons Why,” about teenage suicide, had been viewed 70 times in more than a dozen schools.

But five of the books weren’t viewed at all in the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years: “It’s Perfectly Normal,” “Two Boys Kissing,” “Tricks,” “Almost Perfect,” and “The Vincent Boys.”

PCPS Superintendent Frederick Heid

PCPS libraries use a computer system called Destiny that allows parents to remove their children from individual books. But many said the Destiny system was cumbersome and difficult to use, so Heid asked district staff to work on a tech fix for it over the summer.

In May, CCDF founder and president Steve Maxwell wrote a letter to Heid, urging him to participate.

“History will judge you with benevolence for your wisdom and your intelligence,” Maxwell wrote before quoting a biblical passage from the book of Luke: “It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hanging around your neck than to cause the one of those little ones to fall into sin.

CCDF members and supporters applauded the registration system for the 16 books when it was announced last month, calling it a winner – even though they initially objected to the books being re-shelf and threatened to sue.

“Thank you, Superintendent Heid, for listening to the voice of parents and agreeing to participate,” said Terry Clark, a CCDF “ambassador” and candidate for the school board.

Kathy Bucklew, a CCDF member who served on one of the committees, also thanked Heid.

“I want to direct you as a public school system – let’s be a leader in the State of Florida and ask the State Department of Education…to create a book grading system in the State of Florida (so that that we don’t have to depend on overworked librarians,” Bucklew said. “There are so many benefits to a book rating system.”

But Joellen McPeak, an English teacher at Lake Area High School, said she disagreed with a registration system for the 16 books.

“I’m totally fine with the opt-out — we’ve always had the opt-out,” she said at the July 26 school board meeting. “I think it sets a bad precedent to have the opt-in only for certain books. It’s language to basically ban…it weighs on our media people and our teachers, in particular. I have all the 16 of these books because I wanted to be informed about all these books. They are in my class, but obviously I will follow the procedure.

Heid said Wednesday that they are providing guidance for those with class libraries like McPeak.

But some board members and members of the public have said in meetings over the past few months that if, for example, a gay child wanted to consult one of the 16 books on the subject to help them understand what it is feeling and that their parents are opposed to homosexuality, this book would then be forbidden to the child.

A post circulating on social media indicates that teachers, at least in Sarasota County, are urged not to have classroom libraries, not to accept donated books, not to order school books, not to organizing book fairs, not giving gifts of books to students, and obtaining approval for anything to be read to students.

When asked if any of that was true for Polk County teachers or librarians, Heid texted “No.”

Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning journalist from Lakeland. She can be reached at [email protected] or 863-272-9250.