Parents and district clash over book banning in Pinellas County

January 25, 2023 – Erik Waxler / ABC News Florida

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Regan Miller and Stephanie Cox both have two kids in Pinellas County schools. Both said it’s wrong for the district to ban books.

The latest example is “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison.

“You have the right to restrict your child’s ability to read that material. You can go in and certainly say that your child cannot read that. But what my problem is is you are restricting my child’s ability to read that book and understand someone else’s life experience,” said Miller.

Removing “The Bluest Eye” from schools comes after a complaint from a parent at Palm Harbor University High.

She told ABC Action News she felt the material was inappropriate and is glad the district took her concerns seriously.

The district has now reviewed 94 books since the summer and removed 11 of them from classrooms and school libraries.

“I’m concerned because I have kids that are about to hit high school, and I want them to be competitive when they apply for college, and we are looking at classes like AP and like IB. And I know that students might need challenging books,” said Cox. 

These latest issues have come up since the governor signed new guidelines into law updating the procedures for approving materials in schools.

Those guidelines include banning content deemed pornographic or inappropriate for the grade level.

A certified media specialist at each school is in charge of approving the books.

At last night’s Pinellas County school board meeting, board member Stephanie Meyer said she supports book critiques.

“At the end of the day, we have to remember we are talking about minors. These are minors, and that matters, and I think that needs to be the bottom line,” said Meyer.

In Manatee County, the confusion over what’s allowed in classroom libraries led some teachers to initially cover their bookshelves with construction paper.

Although the district said that was not necessary.

One parent said at last night’s board meeting she would be glad to help teachers vet the books.

Pat Barber is president of the Manatee Education Association and said she works with teachers and the district to clarify requirements under the law.

She said teachers are trained to know what’s appropriate for students.

“The conversation has taken place between parents and teachers and sometimes parents, teachers, and students if it’s appropriate for their age. That conversation has been derailed and interrupted by this law, and so every district going to end up conforming in some way to the requirements of this law because some severe penalties have been built in for individuals that do not comply,” said Barber.

Approved and available books will eventually be posted in a database on the schools’ websites.

Teachers who violate the guidelines could face third-degree felony charges.

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