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Pasco school's first formal book challenge debates 'The Letter Q'

Victoria Crosdale
WUSF Public Media

While some school districts in the state have faced dozens of challenges to remove books from their libraries, "The Letter Q" marks Pasco County Schools' first formal complaint.

Pasco resident Rebecca Yuengling, who said she has two high school-aged children, petitioned for the removal of the book from Gulf Middle School in New Port Richey, calling it inappropriate for minors.

Only one copy was available throughout the district, and was removed while the review process played out since Yuengling objected to the book based on "alleged pornographic and sexually explicit content."

"The Letter Q" features letters from 63 LGBTQ+ authors addressing their younger selves. Scholastic, the book's publisher, writes: "Through stories, in pictures, with bracing honesty, these are words of love and understanding, reasons to hold on for the better future ahead."

The meeting held over Zoom on Monday consisted of an hour of discussion from the ten-person committee, which is composed of teachers, principals, a counselor and other administrators.

 Pasco County Schools held its first formal book challenge regarding "The Letter Q".
Courtesy of
Pasco County Schools
Pasco County Schools held its first formal book challenge regarding "The Letter Q".

Most, including Rushe Middle School principal David Salerno, spoke about the book's merits while conceding that "some letters could have probably been left out."

"But I think that the majority of them really did accomplish what the author intended," said Salerno, "and that is to give hope, to help the reader, who may be struggling, know that life as an adult will be successful."

Gulf Middle principal Amy Riddle said the book may be more appropriate for older grade levels, but agreed that the book could offer hope to LGBTQ+ students.

According to the district's policy, the committee has five school days from Monday's meeting to issue their final recommendation to Riddle, who will then inform Yuengling of the decision within 10 days.

If Yuengling objects to the final ruling, she can appeal the decision to Pasco Supt. Kurt Browning.

During the hearing, Yuengling said that some passages in the book "glamorized" an inappropriate relationship between a minor and adult, as well as substance abuse and suicide. In addition, Yuengling said the book "pushes" ideas of gender construct and identity, which she said she does not believe in and violates state law.

A law that went into effect last year, HB 1069, expanded guidance on book challenges and also restricted the use of pronouns consistent with one's gender identity.

The Florida Department of Education also restricted classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, which led to confusion over whether the state can offer the College Board's Advanced Placement Psychology course.

But the state later clarified, saying the course could be taught in its entirety. Some districts have opted to offer the College Board curriculum since.

In her written complaint, Yuengling also objected to references to the Trevor Project, saying that "children should not be given a resource to contact a 3rd party, TrevorSpace, where they can talk to unknown adults about their sexuality."

The Trevor Project is a nonprofit organization focused on suicide prevention and mental health for LGBTQ+ youth.

This isn't the first time Yuengling has accused the district of violating state legislation. In 2022, after the Parental Rights Law went into effect, a contentious feud between Yuengling and the district on LGBTQ-related issues prompted the district's superintendent to step in and reassign Yuengling's daughter to another high school, according to a report from the Tampa Bay Times.

Florida has taken the lead on book challenges and bans that have ramped up across the nation. And data shows that those challenges are oftentimes targeting books with LGBTQ+ themes, as well as topics like race and racism.

Laws that restrict teaching on those topics have spurred those challenge efforts, writes PEN America, the reading advocacy and watchdog group.

Some Florida counties, like Escambia, Clay, Volusia and Orange, have removed hundreds of books so as not to run afoul of the law, which school administrators have called vague and confusing.

Earlier this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis called cases of widespread banning "a hoax" and an effort to spin a political narrative. But DeSantis is now supporting plans to curb excessive banning, including a Florida House-backed proposal to fine those who seek an extreme number of bans.

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Nancy Guan