Polk County Schools to decide on fate of 16 library books

BARTOW, Fla. – The Polk County School Board held a workshop Tuesday to debate up to 16 books found in PCPS libraries that one national group is calling to have removed.

Polk County Schools Superintendent Frederick Heid recommended the district retain each of the 16 challenged books.

While the superintendent of Polk schools placed the books on quarantine in late January until two independent boards made up of parents, teachers, students and librarians could debate the books and take votes.


What You Need To Know

  • Polk County School Board will hold a workshop Tuesday
  • The superintendent of Polk schools placed the books on quarantine in late January
  • Board members now must decide each book’s fate

Those independent panels approved all the books on the list, but board members had to decide each book’s fate.

While they will not be pulled from school libraries, some books that were more widely available will now be accessible to higher grade levels.

For example, the book “Drama” by Raina Telgemeir was previously available in some elementary, middle, and high school libraries. Now, it will be available to middle and high school students.

Heid said during a work session Tuesday afternoon that parents are already able to see what books are available in their child’s school library, but that process will be simplified.

He said the district is also developing an opt-out / opt-in system. Parents can use those options to let schools know what books they do not want their children to check out. Challenged books will not be back on shelves until that system is up and running sometime this summer.

County Citizens Defending Freedom, the national organization that is calling for the books to be removed, told Spectrum Bay News 9 in a statement it “will take necessary next steps, as outlined in our Model 18 process until this breach is corrected.”

CCDF’s “Model 18” includes a public fight against the books all the way to a potential lawsuit.

Two of the books in question, “The Bluest Eyes” and “Tricks,” according to the group, deal with child rape.

“The Bluest Eyes” weaves racism into its storyline, while the group says “Tricks” is about five children that fell into prostitution and child sex trafficking.

Both, according to CCDF, include pornographic material and could breach laws targeting the distribution of pornography to minors.

At least one person on the debate panels raised issues with “The Bluest Eyes.”

“We have laws to protect children for a reason, and we need to employ them in the selection of our library books,” that panel member said.

But at least one student during the same debate defended the book, saying, “I do not think it’s different than what students would be exposed to in a history textbook, or on social media. It’s the reality that they were living in at that time, I do not think that should be hidden. “

CCDF did not make anyone available for an interview to Spectrum Bay News 9, only releasing a statement from its USA Media Office.

It is unclear if the board approves the books back into libraries how quickly the national organization could launch a lawsuit.

According to the district, school board members were not required to vote on the superintendent’s recommendations, and they’ll stand as they are. Still, Tuesday’s school board meeting was standing room only as people voiced their concerns to board members.

“We should not be in the business of banning books. We should be celebrating them,” said David Bunting, a tenth grade English teacher at Winter Haven Senior High School.

Retried Polk teacher Isabel McKenzie told the board about steps she took as a teacher whenever she showed a movie that wasn’t rated “G”.

“We had to send a letter to the parents that all the students were allowed to watch that movie that was PG. Why did we do that? Because we need to protect the minds of our children,” said McKenzie, who told the board she thinks there’s some material children should not be exposed to until they’re older.

Others said they’re concerned about the opt-in system.

“What about the gay kid whose parents are against him and he’s very scared and he needs to reach out and find a book that’s right for him? His parents aren’t going to opt in,” said Natalie Cole, a teacher.

Kathy Buckew, who was one of the committee members who reviewed the books and then made recommendations to the superintendent, suggested a rating system similar to the one used for movies.

“It would make things easier for policy, for decisions for librarians, for choices for parents,” Buckew said.

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