“Is CCPS banning books?”, a friend texted me early Wednesday morning. Several hours later, another friend wrote, “Unbelievable. What kind of world are we living in?” Over the weekend, a third friend emailed, “This is how Hitler started.”
“Banning books” is one of those hyper-charged terms that tell me to dig deeper. So I did, and I share what I learned in this post.
But first: at the request of School Board member Jerry Rutherford, adding an invocation at the beginning of school board meetings is on the agenda for further discussion at the Board’s Nov. 14 meeting as Unfinished Business Agenda Item F2. For background, see Invocations, Not Ideologies, on Monday’s School Board Agenda; Sparker’s Soapbox, 9/9/23.
Collier County Public Schools (CCPS) media specialists removed over 300 books from the shelves in school media centers and classroom libraries. The removals were the result of reviews required by House Bill 1069, passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May.
Literary classics on the list, according to PEN America, included:
- The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
- The Man in the Iron Mask, by Alexandre Dumas
- Shōgun, by James Clavell
- Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
- Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
- Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
- On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
- Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
- Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
- The Executioner’s Song, by Norman Mailer
- Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand
- Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
- Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
- The Color Purple and The Temple of My Familiar, by Alice Walker
- The Once and Future King, by T.H. White
CCPS gave the Naples Daily News a document that lists the reasonings for removing or restricting each of the 399 flagged books, but I was not able to find that document online. According to the Naples Daily News, the document includes the book title, author, up to three review sources including a crowdsource, and the reasoning for restricting or removing the book. For example:
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker: “The Color Purple broke the silence around domestic and sexual abuse. There is much talk of intercourse and orgasm. Celie has a loving lesbian relationship with Shug, who convinces her to examine her own sexual organs for the first time.”
- The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas: “There’s talk of an affair between two adults. Teens engage in heavy petting, talk about having sex and condoms. A teen girl is described as being on birth control, and there’s discussion of teen pregnancy and the assumption that a married couple is having sex when they go to their bedroom and turn the television up loud. A woman is revealed to be a sex worker.”
Read more at How do Collier and Lee schools decide which books to ban? Here’s what we know, Naples Daily News, 11/12/23 (behind paywall).
It’s the Law
HB 1069 was part of the 2023 “Let Kids Be Kids” bill package that, according to a Governor’s Office news release, was to “protect Florida’s children from permanent mutilating surgical procedures, gender identity politics in schools, and attending sexually explicit adult performances.”
Among other things, the law prohibits sexual content in schools, makes school boards responsible for materials used in classroom libraries, and revises principal, school district, and school board duties and responsibilities relating to certain materials and processes.
Section 847.012, Florida Statutes clarifies:
“An adult may not knowingly distribute to a minor on school property” … “any picture … or similar visual representation or image of a person or portion of the human body which depicts nudity or sexual conduct, sexual excitement, sexual battery, bestiality, or sadomasochistic abuse and which is harmful to minors, or” … “any book, pamphlet, magazine, printed matter however reproduced, or sound recording that contains … explicit and detailed verbal descriptions or narrative accounts of sexual excitement, or sexual conduct and that is harmful to minors….”
HB 1069 also expands mechanisms for challenging books, provides that content that “depicts or describes sexual conduct” is a valid reason for a challenge, and bars instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity through 8th grade.
CCPS’ spokesperson Chad Oliver told the Naples Daily News that the state made it clear that if schools don’t comply, employees may be charged with a felony.
What Collier School Board Members Said
Collier County School Board Chairman Kelly Lichter told WINK News that she was surprised by some books on the list, but that state law is clear: books with sexual content must go. “But parents should keep in mind,” she said, “they ultimately have the last say.”
Board member Stephanie Lucarelli said that the broad law has put Florida school districts in a position where they are left to make decisions on what is considered sexually explicit content.
Giving children unfettered access to cell phones is “far more dangerous than anything our kids are going to be reading in a book,” Lucarelli said.
What is a School Book Ban
According to PEN America:
“Book bans in public schools have recurred throughout American history, with notable flare-ups in the McCarthy era and the early 1980s. But, while long present, the scope of such censorship has expanded drastically and in unprecedented fashion since the beginning of the 2021–22 school year.”
“PEN America defines a school book ban as any action taken against a book based on its content and as a result of parent or community challenges, administrative decisions, or in response to direct or threatened action by lawmakers or other governmental officials, that leads to a previously accessible book being either completely removed from availability to students, or where access to a book is restricted or diminished….“
“It is important to recognize that books available in schools, whether in a school or classroom library, or as part of a curriculum, were selected by librarians and educators as part of the educational offerings to students. Book bans occur when those choices are overridden by school boards, administrators, teachers, or politicians, on the basis of a particular book’s content.”
Read more at What Is a Book Ban? and More Frequently Asked Questions., PEN America.
PEN America is a 501(c)(3) organization that champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.
Let Your Voice Be Heard
Whether you support or oppose the new law or how it is being implemented, let your voice be heard. Contact your elected Florida Senator and Representative. For Collier County voters:
- Sen. Kathleen Passidomo
- Rep. Adam Botana (District 80)
- Rep. Bob Rommel (District 81)
- Rep. Lauren Melo (District 82)
- Florida school district orders removal of all books with gay characters before slightly backing off, Associated Press, 9/27/23
- More than 300 titles, including numerous literary classics, banned In Collier County, Florida – PEN America, 11/5/23
- Collier County Public Schools remove 313 books from school libraries, NBC-2 News, 11/6/23
- ‘I was surprised’ Collier County school board chair reacts to hundreds of removed books, WINK News, 11/7/23
- Steve Martin trolls Florida school district for banning his book: ‘Will have to buy a copy!’, FOX News, 11/8/23
- SWFL school board members say law creates gray areas for removal of books from school libraries, WINK News, 11/8/23
- How Collier and Lee schools decide which books to ban? What we know, Kendall Little, Naples Daily News, 11/11/23