Orange school board candidate complains about sexually explicit books

Alicia Farrant, a candidate for Orange County School Board who previously complained about school library books with sexually explicit passages, held a press conference Thursday to tout her candidacy and share her outrage over two other books.

“I work hard to make sure my children don’t have access to things like this,” said Farrant, a mother of five. “Parents are sick and tired of this filth being in our schools.”

Farrant is a member of Moms for Liberty, a conservative group that has pushed for schools across Florida to yank from its libraries books it dislikes.

Farrant, surrounded by about 15 supporters and two American flags, complained about the John Green novel “Looking for Alaska” and the book “Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships and Being a Human.”

Neither should be in Orange County Public Schools, said Farrant, who appeared with Gov. Ron DeSantis at a March press event where the governor signed a new law that allows more scrutiny of school books.

Green’s award-winning novel is in most OCPS high schools, but the other book is in only three of 22 traditional high schools, according to a review of the high schools’ online library collections.

Farrant’s opponent in the November election and a local mother who co-founded a group that opposes school book bans both said Farrant’s views on library books are out-of-step with those of most residents.

“I‘ve knocked on so many doors and talked to so many people. This isn’t an issue,” said Michael Daniels, a college administrator who faces Farrant in the Nov. 8 election.

Parents talk to him about preparation for college, access to magnet programs and services for children with disabilities and mental health needs, among other issues. They are “anti-censorship in our libraries,” Daniels said, but also know if they do not want their child to check out a certain book “a phone call to their media specialist would nip that in the bud in about three minutes.”

Jen Cousins, an Orange mother and co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, agreed. Farrant “does NOT represent the majority of Orange County parents,” Cousins said in an email.

Green’s novel, the debut book from the New York Times bestselling author, has faced numerous challenges since it was published in 2005 because of sexually explicit scenes but also has won numerous awards.

Recently, the book has been challenged six times in Florida, with only the Hernando County school district deciding to remove it, according to the Florida Freedom to Read Project.

Cousins said she was asked to sit on the Osceola County school district’s book review committee, which reviewed “Looking for Alaska” this summer and voted to keep it in Osceola middle and high schools.

Farrant previously filed a formal challenge against other books in OCPS schools, including “Born a Crime,” an autobiography by late night talk show host Trevor Noah, Cousins noted. “Two committees unanimously voted to keep the book, with most committee members asking why time and resources were wasted on the review,” she wrote.

“Let’s Talk About It,” published last year, is a graphic novel Publisher’s Weekly called a “refreshingly inclusive read” that offers “comprehensive, no-nonsense information on sex and sexuality.” Some reviewers, however, have questioned the authors’ advice related to “kinks,” pornography and sexually transmitted diseases.

Farrant, the top voter getter in the August primary, held up pages of the book at her press conference at Lake Eola, showing illustrations of genitalia and people engaged in sex.

“I’m embarrassed. I’m a 42-year-old woman,” she said. “Why is this there? Who ordered it?”

She said the book wrongly encourages students to look up more information online and claimed it violated state obscenity laws. “The only books that should be removed from our schools are books like this,” Farrant said.

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has ruled that sexual content does not automatically equate to obscenity as whether the material has “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value” must also be considered.

Farrant said parents want schools to focus on traditional school topics. “I stand here today as the voice of thousands of parents and teachers who are ready to get our schools back to basics,” she said.

In the August primary, Farrant and Daniels were two of five candidates seeking the seat now held by board member Linda Kobert, who is not seeking re-election.

Farrant won 33% of the vote and Daniels 28%. Since no one earned more than 50%, the two will face off in November.