The National Coalition Against Censorship has written to the Board of Education of Pinellas County Schools in Largo, FL, to protest the recent removal of Gender Queer from school libraries shelves. This is the latest in a series of book removals across the country that ignore policy and best practice in removing books before a formal review takes place. NCAC is gravely concerned by the increasing number of school districts allowing the personal viewpoints of some to determine what all students are allowed to access. Policies already exist in most districts to allow individual concerned parents to influence what their own children read.

It is our understanding that the District did not follow its book challenge procedures because, in the District’s view, those procedures did not apply, perhaps because a complaint about the book was brought directly to the Board, rather than being filed at the school level.

NCAC has urged the Board to amend the District’s procedures to ensure that all challenges are addressed pursuant to District regulations. Book challenges are often highly contentious and emotional, and the District’s regulations are well crafted to ensure that all parties feel that they have been heard and respected, and also to ensure that decisions are made based on objective criteria which focus on the needs of students. For example, the regulations provide that a committee of educational professionals initially review the challenged work; that the committee consider the book as a whole; and that committee “should check the general acceptance of the materials by reading professional reviews[.]”

By exempting certain challenges from the District’s regulations, the District has deprived itself, and its students, of the advantages of this very sound policy. Indeed, the removal of Gender Queer demonstrates the pitfalls of exempting certain challenges from the District’s regulations. Gender Queer clearly has value for many students, especially “those who identify as nonbinary or asexual as well as for those who know someone who identifies that way and wish to better understand,” as noted by the School Library Journal. It was a 2020 American Library Association Alex Award Winner, a 2020 Stonewall — Israel Fishman Non-fiction Award Honor Book. By exempting Gender Queer from the standard procedures, the District raises the suspicion that the removal of the book was motivated by hostility to the book’s position on gender nonconformity.

Had the district’s regulations been followed, the District might have decided that, notwithstanding certain brief sections that may be controversial when taken out of context, the needs of its entire student body are best served by retaining Gender Queer on library shelves.

Read the full letter to the school district below. Click here for a full screen view: