Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
We inform. You decide.
Thursday, April 18, 2024

ACPS employees, parents share views on the district’s book challenging process

The district rolled out new process to review objections to library materials

Amy Trask advocates for community involvement in book and instructional media challenges at Alachua County Public Schools because of concerns about banning free speech and expression.

Trask, a parent to two children at Meadowbrook Elementary School and a co-chair of the District Advisory Council, worries about the lack of transparency from the district when books are being discussed to be taken off shelves in school libraries. 

“The district has unclear processes,” Trask said. “Not everything has been in the sunshine, even though it needs to be, and we need more community involvement to ensure that we are not banning books because of one lone voice, but more of a consensus process.”

Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine law gives citizens the right to know and attend public meetings such as the school board and DAC proceedings.  

Trask recently attended a conference with PEN America at Harvard University on banning free speech and expression in school literature. She is in the process of creating a “banned book” subcommittee within the DAC. 

“I think book banning is concerning because it erases the voices and stories of so many people that came before us and so many people that are here today,” Trask said. “We need to preserve Black history and gay history.”

The subcommittee's goal is to bring more people into the conversation of book challenges and teach how the process affects employees, parents and students. She also wants to ensure the district follows Sunshine Laws, so there is more transparency with the public on policies and district meetings. 

On Jan. 25 the DAC met for a routine meeting. Although the agenda listed an establishment of the “Subcommittee on Books/Instructional Materials in Schools,” Trask said the establishment failed to happen.

The staff attorney, Susan Siegle, presented on the book challenge procedure change, which was not included in the original agenda. 

“I’m concerned because now we were changing agenda items and changing items from our co-chair meeting,” Trask said.

With the agenda change to allow Siegle to speak, and other “nastiness” in the meeting, the establishment of Trask’s subcommittee has been tabled until the following school year, she said. 

People present at the DAC meeting were not opposed to the creation of a book challenge committee, but were hesitant on the DAC being involved. 

Enjoy what you're reading? Get content from The Alligator delivered to your inbox

“They didn’t know where the DAC would fit into that conversation,” Trask said. 

The banning process

Media and instructional material challenges began last year after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1069 into law, which included provisions for parents and citizens to submit challenges to school materials. 

Citizens can submit objections if they believe books contain pornographic content and/or sexual conduct as described in F.S. 847.001(19)

When the book challenges first began at ACPS last year, it went through review at the school. The principal would put together a library council committee consisting of the school’s media specialist, the guidance counselor, a teacher and a parent, said district media specialist Patty Duval. 

If the citizen still wished to object to the decision, the district would create a committee to review the book. If the citizen still has concerns about the book, they can request a hearing where the district hires “an impartial outside hearing officer where each side presents their case,” Duval said. The hearing officer would then make a recommendation to the board. 

“It was really time consuming and redundant,” Duval said. 

As of Jan. 1, ACPS instituted a new policy for book challenges. Once a principal receives a challenge, the objection is sent to the district media specialist and the book is temporarily removed from the shelf at the school. 

Two Thursdays a month, the library advisory council at the district level meets to discuss. The library advisory council consists of the district media specialist, the curriculum supervisor, the district guidance counselor, a district curriculum specialist and a parent from the school of the objection.

The public is given notice to the meeting, but citizens will not be allowed to comment. The objector can bring evidence for their argument as allowed by F.S. 1006.28(2)(a)2 a and b

The committee then makes a recommendation and votes on whether to keep the book on shelves, however, the decision is not final.

Similar to the original process, if the objector is unhappy with the council’s decision to keep the book on shelves, they can request an impartial outside hearing officer. 

If the committee moves to remove the book from shelves, the case is then sent to the school board. 

Once at the school board, citizens are allowed public comment, and the school board will decide whether to accept or reject the library advisory council’s recommendation.

Unsatisfied objectors can take the hearing to a higher level with the district. If there are still objections, the commissioner of education appoints a member of the Florida Bar to look over the case and recommend a decision to the State Board of Education.

The State Board must then approve or reject the recommendation.

“We are totally against banning books based on opinions. All of the books in our libraries meet selection criteria established by the state,” Duval said. “We stand behind every book in our school library.”

Duval recognizes many of the books receiving complaints share a common subject matter.

“It’s very frustrating constantly being challenged about a specific topic,” she said.

Over half of the books on the Challenged Library Materials list contain themes around gender identity and sexuality. 

Many of those books have been moved from their normal library section to the nonfiction section in an effort to prevent students from accidently picking out books involving gender identity and sexuality, Duval said.

Library Advisory Council meetings

The Library Advisory Council met Jan. 18 to discuss “PET” by Akwaeke Mazi, “My Maddy” by Gayle Pittman and “When Aidan Became a Brother” by Kyle Lukoff. Two of the three books contained subject matter surrounding gender identity. 

Duval opened the meeting by reviewing Florida state statutes outlining what books and materials are allowed in school libraries. 

Three sections of F.S.1006 govern materials appropriate for schools. The statute outlines library books must be picked by media specialists, instruction materials must be free of pornography and be grade-appropriate, and some material purchased by media specialists are intended for instruction. 

After reviewing the statutes, Duval said F.S.1006.40(3)(d) would be used to evaluate book challenges. 

The council then moved into evaluations of each book. Parent representatives from Terwilliger Elementary School and High Springs were present and part of the decision making process when the book in review came from their respective schools. 

Before voicing their opinions and concerns, the council reviewed the pages cited by the objections as violating either age appropriateness or pornography and sexual conduct restrictions.

The council wrote their evaluations on paper before engaging in a group discussion. 

The curriculum specialist, Jon Rehm, used the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, peer reviewed evaluations of the book and other research papers to support his arguments in support of keeping “When Aidan Became a Brother” and “My Maddy” on the shelves. 

“When Aidan Became a Brother” was objected to on the basis of not being age-appropriate for students. Rehm said the objection found an issue with subject matter following a transgender child, which is not a widely accepted gender theory.

“[There is] a wide scientific base for this theory of gender identity, concurrent to it not being controversial, and [it should] no longer [be] looked at as disordered thinking,” he said. 

The research Rehm found made him believe the objectors argument was not valid, he said.

The council concluded “When Aidan Became a Brother” should stay in circulation at Terwilliger, but access to check out the book should be restricted to stay mindful of student age. 

“My Maddy” and “PET” also stayed in circulation with no stipulations on which grade levels can check out the book. 

Contact Megan Howard at mhoward@alligator.org. Follow her on X @meganmhxward.

Support your local paper
Donate Today
The Independent Florida Alligator has been independent of the university since 1971, your donation today could help #SaveStudentNewsrooms. Please consider giving today.

Megan Howard

Megan Howard is a second-year journalism major and the K-12 Education reporter for The Alligator. When she's not writing, you can find her rewatching the Eras Tour movie or reading The Hunger Games series.


Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Independent Florida Alligator and Campus Communications, Inc.