Flagler Sheriff: Controversial book in school libraries broke no law

Flagler County Schools is considering whether to remove "All Boys Aren't Blue" from its media centers after a school board member filed a criminal complaint over it with the Flagler County Sheriff's Office.
Flagler County Schools is considering whether to remove "All Boys Aren't Blue" from its media centers after a school board member filed a criminal complaint over it with the Flagler County Sheriff's Office.

In a strongly-worded statement, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office stated Friday it found that no crime had been committed by the placement of the book “All Boys Aren’t Blue” in some public school libraries.

The Sheriff’s Office made the decision after reviewing a complaint filed by School Board Member Jill Woolbright.

“This matter should have been addressed by the School Board and its District leadership before being submitted to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office as a criminal complaint,” according to a statement from Sheriff Rick Staly in the release. “Our review concluded the allegations did not meet the threshold of a criminal offense and therefore are not a matter to be investigated by the Sheriff’s Office.”

The Sheriff’s Office received a complaint on Nov. 9 about the book from Woolbright, alleging that the book was pornography under Florida law.

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Woolbright complained that two chapters of the book discuss sexually explicit material and making it available to children was a violation of Florida law, according to a press release from the sheriff's office. Woolbright charged that Flagler County School media centers or employees should be held criminally accountable, the release stated.

But the Sheriff's Office's Investigative Services Division determined there was no evidence suggesting the book was purchased outside of the normal procedures or procurement processes established by the Flagler County School Board, the release stated. The review also found that the facts in the case did not meet the elements of a crime.

“The Sheriff’s Office does not determine what material is appropriate for the students of Flagler County,” Staly stated in the release. “The Flagler County School Board has the constitutional duty and responsibility to determine the content of all materials used in the classroom and made available in the school library. The board is responsible for developing proper policies and procedures to evaluate and purchase these materials.

“The Board’s policies and practices permitted the purchase and circulation of the book in question. The determination of whether the book is appropriate for school libraries rests on the shoulders of the Flagler County School District leadership."

The book was originally available in 3 Flagler school libraries

The book in question, "All Boys Aren't Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto," was available in three school libraries: two copies at Flagler Palm Coast High School, one at Matanzas High School and one at Buddy Taylor Middle School.

The young adult memoir chronicles the experiences of author George M. Johnson, who uses they/them pronouns, growing up Black and queer in America. Parts of the book include descriptions of masturbation, oral and anal sex and sexual assault.

Staly stated his personal thoughts on the issue were not relevant.

“While I have my personal opinion on this issue, I am sworn to uphold Florida law and not my personal opinion,” according to his statement in the release.

Woolbright had asked for the book and some procedures to be included on a future workshop agenda. But she previously said she believed district staff wasn't taking it seriously or acting quickly enough on what she believes to be a criminal matter, so she contacted law enforcement.

Woolbright texted a statement to The News-Journal Friday afternoon in which she wrote that the school district needs to update its policy on the issue and a committee needs to "make a judgement call" on whether or not the book should be placed in schools.

In her complaint filed with the Sheriff's Office, Woolbright wrote she was on social media when she saw a video of a mother in Pennsylvania reading from the book.

"The reading was disgusting," Woolbright wrote in the complaint.

Woolbright then checked out the book at a local public library and read the book herself. She wrote in her complaint that in one chapter the author describes an encounter he had with an older male cousin with whom he had oral sex and who teaches him how to masturbate. In another chapter, the author describes in "graphic details" "how he first sodomized another male and then later he was sodomized by the other male," Woolbright wrote in her complaint.

In her complaint, Woolbright said she told Flagler County Schools Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt and School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin about the issue.

"I made it clear I wanted whoever was responsible for putting those books in our media centers held accountable for this crime committed on our children; obviously the books pulled; all young adult books checked; and the other school board members to be made aware!" Woolbright wrote.

Flagler County School spokesman Jason Wheeler said in a phone interview on Friday that the copies of “All Boys Aren’t Blue” have been removed from circulation while a committee reviews the book.

The committee is made up of school administrators, parents, media specialists and members of the district’s teaching and learning department, Wheeler said.

He said the committee has 15 school days to review the book and determine whether it still belongs in the high school media centers.

He said he believes the process may have been slowed down because the Sheriff’s Office review placed a pause on everything, Wheeler said.

The School District is also working on a media center review process which will be similar to the review process textbooks and other material undergo, he said.

He said the district had not had a book challenged before.

The issue has turned into a national debate and a local one as well, with tempers flaring at times. On Tuesday, the School Board heard five hours of public comment — 79 comments — on the topic.

The Sheriff’s Office also reviewed allegations of threats during protests and counter-protests and on media platforms, the release stated.

“While the behavior and language of some individuals was discourteous, there were no comments made that rose to the level of a threat under Florida law,” according to Staly’s statement. “The comments and the manner they were made were protected by First Amendment speech, regardless of how disgusting they may have been or perceived by others.”

This is a developing story. Please check back later for more details.

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Flagler Sheriff: No crime to have controversial book in school library