Opinion: Why DeSantis and Parents Were Right About Vetting Public School Books
DUVAL COUNTY – In spite of incessant, hyperbolic claims of “book banning,” “homophobia,” and “autocratic rulings,” the number of parents supporting recently passed legislation related to the selection of school library books and instructional materials continues to grow.
One only needs to look at the Governor’s margin of victory for his reelection to see this increasing support. When concerned, fair-minded citizens learn the facts related to the legislation and some of the books Duval County Public Schools purchased as part of an “essential” collection, they appreciate our state law makers and governor for taking bold action.
Empty claims abound from groups who appear to have no concern with facts. House Bill 1467 which passed last year will require all school librarians and media specialists to be trained annually in order to assist them with selecting books that comply with state law requirements (related to books being age appropriate, without pornography, etc.).
The new rules also state that only persons who are certified as Educational Media Specialists are authorized to make selections of materials available to students in school and classroom libraries.
Allow me to explain, with evidence, why so many Duval County citizens support the recently passed legislation
While the state legislature was in session last year, and the media and activists were portraying Governor DeSantis and parents who supported him as far-right, misinformed zealots, a local drama was playing out within our own public school district. Moms for Liberty Duval received information that the district was suddenly scrambling to pull and hide books they purchased for every English Language Arts (ELA) elementary classroom library.
After multiple records requests asking the district to provide the names of these “essential” books, the district provided the information some eight months later. The district relented after two attorneys got involved and after legislation from Tallahassee shined a spotlight on a community’s basic right to know what materials our public schools are making available to students.
When Moms for Liberty Duval finally received the records dump, mining through the information proved to be an exercise in discovery that validated the concerns of many. We learned that the district chose to purchase pre-packaged book collections for every K-5 ELA classroom before reviewing any of them.
As legislation was being debated and public concern regarding inappropriate books was growing, the district assigned staff to complete reviews of the elementary classroom library book collections. This was after all the books had been purchased and delivered to every elementary school in the district.
Some things we learned include:
DCPS purchased a book called Stonewall Riots for elementary classroom libraries. A district employee who reviewed this book wrote, “There are hundreds of men having orgies in a used meat locker that smelled of dead remains and they were all in there at once having sex.” Further on, the reviewer states the book, “rationalized prostitution and drugs,” and referred to police as “pigs.” Additionally, the book includes “bar scenes, throwing shot glasses, drugs and alcohol throughout.” As her final statement in the book review, the reviewer wrote, “These were sent to elementary schools. I can’t imagine them being in school at all. [This book] has no place in school.”
DCPS purchased a book called Gracefully Grayson for elementary classroom libraries. A district employee who reviewed this book indicated it “graphically depicted person on person violent acts,” “includes some sexual acts or dirty jokes,” “allusions to sexual acts,” “many instances of racial, religious, gendered slurs.” The reviewer comments, “I would not recommend this for a regular classroom independent reading in elementary school. This type of book deals highly with death and dying…from the perspective of someone whose fixation is on the focus of the person they lost and is dealing with psychological issues as a result of feeling alone.”
DCPS purchased a book called Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World for elementary classroom libraries. A district employee who reviewed this book indicated it “contains very graphic details of the young girl at the age of 12 considering constant thoughts of sexual preference. There were references to topics that are inappropriate. Adult [character] goes into detail about how this person is discovering different people’s sexuality. I would not recommend this book at all.”
To be clear, numerous copies of these books were purchased for each of the 97 elementary schools in the district.
Of the 250 reviews by the district (after the purchase), 119 were not recommended for the intended grade’s classroom library. That’s a whopping 48% of the reviews completed that deemed material inappropriate for the intended audience, as assessed by instructional materials specialists – not radical, right-wing “book banners.”
This is not to say that all of the 48% had sexual or violent content. Some books were not recommended because they were not age appropriate for other reasons, such as reading level and maturity level of themes. Even so, it is shocking that 48% of the books reviewed did not meet the standards of the DCPS instructional materials personnel. It is disheartening that it took legislation from Tallahassee to give the district pause and spur them to review their purchases. This, coming from the school district and the overseeing School Board who in 2021 championed “home rule.” They argued to the public and in a court of law that the School Board’s “home rule” should be the final say, not state law, when it comes to deciding what is best for the children of Duval County.
We hope shedding light on this fiasco serves to teach us something. First, it’s evident that there are groups – vendors and publishers in this case – who are intent on pushing inappropriate books into elementary age classrooms. This reality demonstrates the need for this legislation in the first place. Our school system should also learn that a thorough review of all material provided to its students is part of good vendor management.
Moms for Liberty Duval invites all adults to join us in thanking our state lawmakers and Department of Education for providing oversight. If not for our state leaders placing pressure on school districts to better steward the public’s trust and money, the innocence of our children would be stolen by the very adults whose mission it is to safely educate them.