Clay County school board considers policy change to put challenged library books back on shelves

Zoey Fields

The Clay County school board is advertising amendments made to its current Library and Media Policy that, if approved, would put many challenged and removed library books back on the shelves.

The decision to amend the current policy comes after more than six months of scrutiny by teachers, students, parents and community members who have voiced their concerns about the number of books being removed from district library shelves.

“The current policy, in an abundance of caution, removes every challenged book pending review. In Clay, our current policy is being exploited by a couple of extreme individuals who are clogging the system with hundreds of meritless challenges,” Clay County Education Association President Vicki Kidwell said on behalf of herself and Clay County educators. “The current backlog will take years to process at six books a month. Meanwhile, these books are locked away, inaccessible for all of those years — essentially banned.”
The suggested policy changes will be voted on during the April 6 school board meeting at 6 p.m. at Fleming Island High School.Photo byClay County District Schools

The initial Clay County school board policy allowing parents to challenge books and immediately have them removed from library shelves was created in August 2022, after Gov. Ron DeSantis approved House Bill 1557 that “reinforces parental rights in education.” The law went into effect July 1, 2022, impacting the 2022-2023 school year.

Another law, House Bill 1467, went into effect on the same date. This bill mandates that Florida school boards must establish a challenge policy to ensure that books held in school circulation are not in violation of Florida obscenity statute 847.

The laws, as explained by Clay County school board attorney Bruce Bickner, are not related (though often grouped together) but are separate entities entirely.

The proposed changes to the library media policy would allow challenged books that have nothing to do with Florida obscenity statute 847 to be put back on library shelves immediately. The law prohibits pornographic material in the hands of minors such as “explicit and detailed verbal descriptions or narrative accounts of sexual excitement, or sexual conduct that is harmful to minors.”

Click here to view Florida Statue 847 in full.

The changes to the policy would create a “Challenge Oversight Committee” consisting of the district’s Supervisor of Instructional Resources, the Chief Academic Officer and the District Library Media Specialist who are responsible for an initial review of any challenged book submitted to the school district.

If the Challenge Oversight Committee determines the challenge is in direct violation of Florida statute 847, the book is to be removed from all school district shelves.

If the book is clearly not in violation of the statute, it is then deemed “meritless,” and the committee can return the challenge form to the complainant and the book is not removed from school library shelves.

If the committee is unable to determine whether the book is in direct violation of the law, only then would those books get passed along to the District Curriculum Council (now coined the District Curriculum Council for Reconsideration) for a review and vote on the book’s status.

If adopted, the amendment to the policy would immediately put several (a set number has not been determined) currently challenged books instantly back on school library shelves due to “meritless” challenge forms.

“Books that do not violate the 847 statute should not be removed,” Kidwell said during the March 2 meeting. “Freedom cannot be taken for granted. One person should not choose for all parents; that is the opposite of parental rights.”

Per a Feb. 23 update, 288 books were challenged in Clay County District Schools. Those books were immediately removed from library shelves and unavailable for checkout until a review was completed and a vote on the book’s status in libraries was cast by the District Curriculum Council (a group made up of parents, principals and media specialists).

The council, however, is only able to complete roughly six book reviews per month, causing the list of challenged (and, therefore, removed) books to grow in size much quicker than reviews and decisions could be completed, Clay County District Schools Chief Academic Officer Roger Dailey explained.

Books that fall into the “gray area” and need a review by the District Curriculum Council for Reconsideration would be removed from shelves, however, would still be held in school libraries and allowed to be checked out to students who submit a signed permission slip from their parent or guardian claiming the child is allowed to have access to the book (despite it awaiting review).

Dailey told board members that there have only been 11 parents who have regularly agreed to be a part of the District Curriculum Council and that they are approaching burnout, suggesting that without volunteers on the council, current challenged books may take even longer to reach a completed review. By adopting these amendments, the number of books assigned to the council for reading, discussion and voting would significantly decrease—becoming less of a daunting, never-ending task and, perhaps, encouraging more parents to join the council, he said.

The school board voted to approve the amendments for advertisement, allowing time for the public to become aware of the proposed changes and weigh in on the matter. Adoption of the amendment is pending as board members must vote for approval (or rewording a new amendment) at their next board meeting scheduled for April 6 at 6 p.m. in the Teacher In-Service Center at Fleming Island High School.

Click here to view the proposed amendment to the library media policy in full.

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Accredited journalist with experience covering a wide range of stories consisting of breaking news, city and county government, crime and courts, feature stories and local interest. Facebook Bulletin writer, reporter; The Learning Curve. Twitter: @zoeyfields0

Jacksonville, FL

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