Divided St. Johns County School Board votes to keep 7 controversial books on library shelves

School board voted 3-2 to keep the books, and more appeals are coming

Four of the seven books that the St. Johns County School Board voted to keep in libraries after appeals from parents. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Seven controversial books will remain on St. Johns County library shelves.

That’s what the school board decided after a heated and emotional debate on Tuesday morning.

Parents in the district appealed the books multiple times and said the contents were inappropriate for young children.

The 3-2 vote to keep all seven books on library shelves came after hours of public comment from both sides of the debate and a plea from the well-known author of one of the books in question.

Five parents appealed the books — including a children’s book about a gender nonbinary guinea pig and a book about “white privilege” — and said they contain subjects that don’t belong in schools. Those who appealed the books were backed up by dozens of speakers on Tuesday.

Books reviewed by St. Johns County included:

“There is nothing but crippling devastation that can come from planting the seed in every child’s mind that they were born in the wrong body and that they need to fix how they were made,” said Sashell Dragich, one of the parents who appealed three elementary school books.

St. Augustine High School senior Jamie Parkey was among the speakers who were against removing the books.

“It has been a long road for me and I don’t know how I would have made it to the finish line without access to books about people like me,” Parkey said.

Parkey also read a letter from Jonathan Van Ness, star of Netflix’s hit show “Queer Eye” and the author of “Peanut Goes for the Gold.” Van Ness went live on Instagram to address the vote with his nearly six million followers.

“Call me nieve, but I didn’t ever think I’d be in a place where I would write a children’s book that would be banned or being voted on to get banned,” Van Ness said. “There has been a concerted effort to silence queer voices for hundreds of years and we aren’t going anywhere and we got to show up for our kids.”

In the end, two board members, Beverly Slough and Kelly Barrera, voted to remove the books. And board members who voted to keep the books said they were worried about the precedent removing the books could set.

“We need to trust the process. Otherwise, we’re going to be deciding what word, what page, what book is wrong. And this should not be happening because we have professionals to do that,” said board chairman Patrick Canan.

The district and board members noted that community and school district committees reviewed the books before Tuesday’s meeting and found them to be acceptable for schools. The district also noted it has a mechanism to prevent children from checking out certain books through its “Individualized School Library Access Plan,” but parents against the books being in schools noted those books could still be read in the library without checking them out.

Parents who spoke out against the books in question said this fight isn’t over. 49 more books will also eventually be reviewed by the district at a later date. The board also said it will look at changing some of the processes for how students access controversial books.

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