Updated 5/13/2022: Two book review committees and the Polk County superintendent have voted to return the sixteen books in question to shelves. There are some caveats, however, including a plan under consideration to require parents to opt their children in to being allowed to access the books, instead of the district’s current policy of asking parents who disapprove of the books to opt their children out of access. At time of writing, the books were still “quarantined.”
Updated 4/8/2022: Polk County Public Schools has decided to keep Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer and It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley in middle and high school libraries. The board is set to vote on the remainder of the books at its April 26th meeting.
Original Post 2/11/2022: The National Coalition Against Censorship has written to Polk County Public Schools in Bartow, Florida, in regard to reports that sixteen books have been removed from district libraries pending adjudication of challenges that contend the books are “harmful to minors”. The books in question include Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Vincent Boys by Abbi Glines, It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley, Real Live Boyfriends by E. Lockhart, Melissa (formerly titled George) by Alex Gino, I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, Drama by Raina Telgemeier, Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera, Tricks by Ellen Hopkins, and Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher.
Along with the Authors Guild and PEN Children’s and Young Adult Books Committee, NCAC is urging the Polk County School Board to return the challenged books to library shelves and to amend its challenge procedures to explicitly require that books remain available to students until the entire review process is complete. Whether the books are ultimately banned or not, the effect on current students is the same: they cannot access the books.
The current case clearly demonstrates the importance of a thorough review. The allegations that the books in question are “harmful to minors” is baseless. A book cannot be “harmful to minors” unless the book “taken as a whole, is without serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.” [See Florida Statute §847.001(6).] It seems extremely unlikely that professional educators placed sixteen books that lack serious educational value on the shelves of the district’s libraries.
The district’s regulations are vague regarding the status of books under review. While their policy states that, “No challenged material may be removed from the curriculum or from a collection of resource materials except by action of the Board,” district personnel have determined that the books can be temporarily removed. Many districts, including many in Florida, have policies which explicitly state that challenged materials must remain in use while challenges are adjudicated.
The absence of a similar provision in Polk County encourages baseless challenges and harms the district’s students. Potential challengers know that they can have books that they personally dislike removed, at least temporarily, simply by filing a challenge, however meritless. The existing policy also opens the door to a challenge to large numbers of books that can take months to adjudicate.
Every book that has been selected for inclusion in district libraries has been deemed by the district’s professional educators to be valuable to students. Students suffer when they lose access to books, even temporarily.
The letter to the school board is below. Click here for a full screen view: