Bring them back or keep them off? Parents mixed on book removals from Martin County schools
Editor's note: This article was modified from its original version to clarify that books in question were removed from Martin County School District libraries.
MARTIN COUNTY — Parents want the books back in the school libraries. But not all parents.
About 200 people, many of them parents and grandparents, crowded the School Board meeting Tuesday to demand that more than 80 titles be returned to library shelves. The books were removed last month from school media centers after parent Julie Marshall filed challenges, complaining the books were inappropriate for children because they contained sexual content or racist themes.
State and local policies dictate how school districts respond to book challenges. Media specialists are required to remove books after a challenge is filed and until the book is reviewed. State law holds media specialists accountable for ensuring library books are age-appropriate and free from pornography.
Several of the more than 40 speakers requested a committee be created to read the books and reconsider their removal.
Marshall said Tuesday she had worked with parent groups to compile the list of books to challenge. It wasn't just her alone, she stressed.
"Persecute me for standing on morality," she said. "I really don't care."
Parents addressing the School Board Tuesday complained that Marshall didn't speak for them. One person or group, they said, should not decide what books are available to their children.
"Judy Blume helped me through adolescence," said Karen Janson. "Toni Morrison's 'The Bluest Eye' helped me understand that I have privileges that my Black peers do not enjoy. Jodi Picoult continues to educate me on social issues that I do not fully comprehend. In order to be a united community, we must understand one another."
'Fear is not freedom'
Fear of knowledge is the reason books are banned or burned, said 100-year-old Grace Linn, who noted her husband died in World War II defending freedom.
"Fear is not freedom. Fear is not liberty. Fear is control," she said. "My husband died as a father of freedom. I am a mother of liberty. Banned books need to be proudly displayed and protected from School Board choices."
The freedom to read, Linn said, is an essential right and duty of our democracy, "even though it is continually under attack."
Those who supported returning books to the libraries wore yellow stickers, which former School Board member Victoria Defenthaler said symbolized yellow school buses.
For some, content was unsuitable
Parents who supported the book removal said many of the books contained sexual content and language unsuitable for children.
"I do not want pornography around my grandchildren or any children," said Elizabeth Crane, adding she was in fourth grade when they removed prayer from schools, "and today kids have to read about rape."
Martin County schools remove more than 80 book titles for sexual, racial content after complaints
Drawing national attention
Martin County's removal of books attracted national attention when authors whose books were removed took to social media to protest.
Author James Patterson, a Palm Beach resident, on Twitter called the removal of his "Maximum Ride" book series from elementary schools "borderline absurd," and called on people to write to Gov. Ron DeSantis about the move.
Best-selling novelist Jodi Picoult, who noted 20 of her books were removed from Martin County school library shelves, spoke out against it on CNN and other national media. Picoult's books were challenged for being adult romance novels, but, Picoult said in interviews, some of the books do not contain even a kiss.
"The real fear for these parents is that their kids’ minds may be opened by a book," Picoult said on Twitter.
After listening to almost two hours of speakers, the board had little to say and took no action to return the books or reconsider their removal.
Those opposing the book removal were heard, Board member Amy Pritchett said.
How the process works
Anyone can challenge a book in the school library, according to district policy. Once a challenge is made, the school's media specialist is required to review the book and make a recommendation whether to keep it on the shelf. Next, the school's principal meets with the person making the complaint to tell them of the decision.
The decision can be appealed to the director of curriculum and instruction and, ultimately, to the School Board. Parents also can request their children not be given access to certain books or materials.
State law requires media specialists undergo training and ensure library books are age-appropriate, free of pornography and not harmful to minor children. Violators could face a third-degree felony charge. The state Department of Education, in a presentation explaining the law, suggests media specialists "err on the side of caution" when selecting books.
Book bans are on the rise. What are the most banned books and why?
James Patterson: If Florida bans my books, 'no kids under 12 should go to Marvel movies'
James Patterson, Judy Blume, Toni Morrison, Jodi Picoult on list of 80 books one Florida school district pulled
'Dangerous trend': Author James Patterson decries book removal efforts in Florida's public schools
Colleen Wixon is the education reporter for TCPalm and Treasure Coast Newspapers. Contact her at 772-978-2235 and email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Crowd protests book removals at Martin County School Board meeting