Escambia school board removes three books from libraries
The Escambia County School Board voted to remove three books from school libraries last night in a meeting that ran over four hours.
The books in question had already gone through the district’s committee review process and had been voted unanimously to stay on the shelves in school libraries. But multiple challenges brought the books into an appeal process.
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In a packed room, dozens of parents and concerned citizens spoke about the books which include “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George Johnson, “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, and “When Aiden Became a Brother” by Kyle Lukoff.
“All Boys Aren’t Blue” was the only book to be removed by a unanimous vote.
“All Boys Aren’t Blue” is a young adult novel from author George Johnson about growing up Black and queer. It’s currently banned in at least 20 school districts across the country. The book was only available in high school libraries, but challenges about the book called into question certain excerpts of the book that graphically describe sex acts.
“Young people don’t need more of this content,” said Eric Majors addressing the room. “They’re bombarded with it. They could act out a horrific rape or killing because of something (they) read and rationalize it with ‘Well, I read about this in our library.'”
RELATED: Learn more about the books in question
But those who wanted it to stay in the library say it offered an outlet for students who want to read relatable stories or learn empathy from experiences different from their own.
“These are cherry-picked passages,” said Linda Fussell in response to the sexual content of the book. She pointed out other excerpts of the book.
“Page 223: ‘Love who you want to love and do it unapologetically including the person including that face you see every day in the mirror,” she read.
“This is an attack on LGBTQ ideology.”
Indeed, all three books discussed in Monday’s special meeting dealt with LGBTQ themes and characters. None of the books were part of classroom curriculum but were offered in age-appropriate libraries for students to read at will.
School Board Member Kevin Adams was the more vocal member in regards to the books. He questioned why any of the books, such as “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” that have sparked national debate, would remain in the libraries.
“Why don’t we get ahead of this thing and remove everything we know (is pornographic) because I don’t want to read another one of these,” he said holding up a copy of “All Boys.”
But Ellen Odom, general counsel for the school district, confirmed media specialists and the superintendent could remove books, but that she is “wary of going down that road.”
“It could open the board, and you as the superintendent, to legal challenges on the basis that you are removing something based on political expediency, issues of religion that may not be widely shared by other members of the community,” Odom said to Superintendent Tim Smith.
Some speakers used the controversial law HB 1557, otherwise known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, to hold up their arguments for removing books with LGBTQ content. On the other side, people argued that the books are not part of classroom instruction.
“I’m dismayed to be standing here making the case to keep books on shelves in Escambia County when our reading scores are dismal at best,” said Alma Woods regarding the book “And Tango Makes Three," by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, about two male penguins that raise a chick together. “The complaint against (the book) is being seen through the eyes of an adult. I have a 6-year-old and they read the story and they weren’t fascinated by the same-sex family. They liked the part about the eggs hatching.”
Representatives from organizations such as Sunday’s Child and Stamped LGBT Film Festival spoke on the benefits of representation in books that help teach empathy and compassion.
But arguments against the children’s books such as “And Tango Makes Three” were about the “indoctrination of LGBTQ agenda.”
RELATED: 'I Am Jazz' — by trans activist from South Florida — among nation's most banned kids' books
“This book is very clever and very subtlety written attempting to promote an agenda that is sexual in nature,” said John Roberts. “We want this book removed because it’s just not the best book we can have. We want the best books and we need to use that criteria.”
The same arguments were made against the book “When Aiden Became a Brother,” by Kyle Lukoff. The children’s picture book is about a transgender boy becoming a big brother. The book was the third book to be voted on by the board members.
When she spoke for the third time at the podium, Sara Latshaw, deputy political director for the ACLU of Florida said she felt she was wasting her breath.
“And if the misinformation I’ve heard in this meeting isn’t a sign that more books are needed, I can’t think of what else is,” she said. “You cannot remove a book from the library simply because it has a transgender character, just as there are transgender people in our schools, we cannot erase them from our libraries. The message this sends is harmful, particularly to transgender students who are the most vulnerable and isolated.”
Ella Jane Hoffmaster was the only student who spoke at the meeting and asked the board to consider LGBTQ youth who are at higher risk of suicide as well as Black students, who make up 35% of Escambia County's student body.
"I saw a sign recently that you guys were marketing that you were all in," she said addressing the board. "If you are truly all in, be all in for LGBTQ students. Please, I'm begging you, be all in for our Black students. You're supposed to represent us, the students."
Rev. Rick Branch of United Methodist Church also spoke in favor of keeping all three books on the shelves. By the time the third book was brought to discussion, he said he was “disappointed.”
“Love is not winning tonight, but I hope we’ll get there someday,” he said.
School Board member Patty Hightower was the only member to vote to keep both children’s books in school libraries.
“I’m one of those people who thinks reading books doesn’t change your mind or who you are but it makes you a more compassionate and caring person,” she said calling in to the meeting.
School board chair Paul Fetsko said he believed the books should be read at home with families.
“The issue is the parents who need to be involved. Parents and children need to come together and work together, it won’t always happen,” he said.