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The Florida school board is banning a book about book bans


Members of the Indian River County School Board said they did not like the reference to other books that had been removed from schools and accused it of “teaching rebellion against the authority of the school board.”

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School officials in Florida have banned a book ban.

The Indian River County School Board voted at a meeting last month to remove Alan Gratz’s “Ban This Book” from its shelves, rejecting the decision of the county’s own book review committee to keep it.

The children’s novel follows a fictional fourth grader who creates a secret library of banned books after her school board removes a large number of titles from the shelves.

Members of the Indian River County School Board said they did not like the reference to other books removed from schools and accused it of “teaching rebellion against the authority of the school board,” as described in the formal motion to drive it away.

The book, which had been in two Indian River County elementary schools and a high school, was challenged by Jennifer Pippin. She is the head of the area’s local chapter of Moms for Liberty, a national conservative group that has become one of the loudest advocates for the removal of books they deem inappropriate.

The book was also challenged at least once in Florida by someone in Clay County, but school officials there decided to keep it in circulation.

Gratz, its author, called Indian River County’s decision “incredibly ironic.”

“They banned the book because it’s about the books they banned and because it’s about banning books,” he said in an interview with the USA TODAY NETWORK – Florida. “It feels like they know exactly what they’re doing and are somewhat ashamed of what they’re doing, and they don’t want a book on the shelves that calls them out.”

The decision of the school board

The school board voted 3-2 to remove the book, but that could have gone the other way months earlier.

Board members Jacqueline Rosario and Gene Posca, who voted in the majority, were supported during their campaigns by Moms for Liberty, according to Treasure Coast Newspapers. The third “yes” vote came from Kevin McDonald, who was recently appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis.

Moms for Liberty leaders have vocally supported DeSantis — and vice versa. Still, the appointment went off with more drama than usual.

It all started when school board member Brian Barefoot resigned, saying he was leaving the district he was elected to represent. He attempted to rescind that resignation the next day, after a Treasure Coast Newspapers reporter told him his new home was actually in the same district.

He didn’t succeed.

Following McDonald’s appointment, Barefoot told TCPalm that he never received a courtesy call notifying him nor received official confirmation of his resignation.

Barefoot was on a list of school board members DeSantis wanted to target in the 2024 elections. According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, these members do not protect parental rights or protect students from “woke” ideologies. McDonald had filed for Barefoot’s seat.

“We are elected – I am appointed, vote of one vote – we are here to represent the decisions of the parents, and the school board is the final authority for our citizens,” McDonald said at last month’s meeting, in which he presented a explained some of his disagreement with the book. .

“The title itself and the theme challenge our authority. And it goes so far as to not only name but list books deemed inappropriate by school boards, including ours .”

Florida Freedom to Read, one of the loudest advocates for access to books in the state, called the removal “truly absurd.” in a social media postand added, “This is what happens when you lose an unbiased majority.”

Not everyone agrees with the decision

At the same time, BookLooks.org, a book review website affiliated with Moms for Liberty and often cited for challenging books in schools, gives “Ban This Book” only a mild “1” out of five for inappropriateness. .

“This book encourages young children’s activism,” the rating said in its “summary of concerns.” Regardless, Pippin’s book challenge accused the book of containing sexual behavior.

School board members who opposed the removal had a different opinion.

“It doesn’t depict or describe sexual behavior, period. It may reference other books that do, but it doesn’t do that itself,” said Teri Barenborg, president of the school board. ‘It’s a cute book about a little girl who tries to defy the established order. Is she dealing with this in the right way? No. Does she learn her lesson? Yes.’

The main character, student Amy Anne, broke several school rules while circumventing the board’s decisions, such as taking drawn books from the librarian’s office to use in her own secret library.

McDonald accused the author of justifying such behavior because it was imposed on the school board she disagreed with: “That lesson alone is at the heart of the corruption in our society,” he said.

Gratz, the author, said the criticism took things out of context “deliberately just to get a book off the shelf.”

“Obviously that’s not the message of the book,” Gratz said. “But they were making ‘good problems’, as John Lewis would say, and these kids know the difference between good problems and bad problems.”

McDonald referred to a scene on the final page, in which the main character ironically reflects on how the books were removed for fear that they would “encourage children to lie, steal and be disrespectful to adults.” Instead, she thought, it was the book ban that led to such behavior, for which she had been punished.

It was the school board in the book that caused the “good trouble,” Gratz said, breaking their own rules in removing books outside the usual review process.

While Indian River County School Board members get the final say in decisions about the library’s contents, he compared that plot point to how they decided to withdraw his book even though it had gone through a review process when it was purchased and after it was challenged. The reviewers included both parents and school officials.

That also irritated Barenborg.

“We looked at this book several times before it came to us,” she says. “Yet we will be the five people who determine that we know all those people who determined that the book was okay before it reached us. I have a hard time with that.”

Another criticism of ‘Ban This Book’ from school board member Posca: ‘This book is really just a liberal Marxist propaganda piece.’

“I am a liberal and guilty as charged,” Gratz countered with a laugh. “I am absolutely not a Marxist. I think this is just a case of someone using sharp political words to score points with supporters.”

Ultimately, it was Amy Anne who found the confidence to speak out during the public comment portion of a school board meeting that led members to restore the books.

“It doesn’t teach rebellion against the school board; it teaches civic engagement,” Gratz said. “If that means opposing what your school board is doing, that means opposing what your school board is doing.”

‘Ban This Book’ is not the first banned book

“Ban This Book” is not the first book to be removed from Indian River County public schools.

More than 140 books have been removed from school shelves after objections, according to a list obtained through a public records request. Moms for Liberty’s Pippin had already raised these objections.

As previously reported by the USA TODAY NETWORK, Florida has twice controversially selected Pippin, a parent of a public school student, to participate in a group to develop a state-sponsored training program on book disposal for school librarians and media specialists.

Other deleted books she challenged include classics like Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” and Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner.”

She also received ‘The Diary of Anne Frank: the graphic adaptation’ from a secondary school. And in response to her objection to a children’s book that showed a goblin’s bare behind, the school district put clothing over it.

Indian River County isn’t the only place in Florida to see a sharp increase in relocations. Multiple measures signed by DeSantis have prompted local school leaders across the state to collect books in widely varying ways for fear of running afoul of state law. It has also led to several lawsuits.

Meanwhile, DeSantis and other conservatives have pushed back against the term “book ban.” DeSantis says the removals are being exaggerated, condemning the mainstream media, unions and left-wing activists’ hoax about empty library bookshelves and political theater…

At the same time, he has destroyed the explicit content of certain school library books and introduced a law aimed at limiting the number of books a person can challenge if they are not a student’s parent or guardian.

But Gratz said the “core of the problem” is that those trying to remove books are not trying to protect children.

“They don’t want these books to exist,” he said. Especially, he added, books by and about communities of color and the LGBTQ community. “Now they don’t want my book on the shelf because it would tell kids that these books exist: the books they can’t even get in the library.”

This reporting content is supported through a partnership with Freedom Forum and Journalism Funding Partners. USA TODAY Network-Florida First Amendment reporter Douglas Soule can be reached at [email protected].