Clay County School District considers new policy on reviewing ‘controversial’ books

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – The Clay County School District could soon have a new policy for reviewing books and other materials, in response to a new Florida law that requires the approval of books in school libraries.

There will be a public hearing on these changes to the policy on Thursday, which coincides with Read Across America Day.

The bill also added requirements for each school board to lay out procedures for training school staff and including parents in the process.

There are two parts to the proposed changes in Clay County. First, an updated manual for school media specialists and new procedures for reviewing challenged materials.

The manual explicitly states the provisions in the new state law that ban pornographic material.

The district already uses a rotating team of at least five people to review books in classrooms and libraries, which is made up of resource specialists principals and parents.

The inclusion of at least one parent on the committee is required and isn’t changing.

The biggest change to the current policy is that when a challenge only applies to a library book, the material will not be removed from circulation. Those books will be kept aside, and students can still check them out with a signed permission slip from a parent that must also include a copy of the parent’s driver’s license or ID.

A list of those books will be kept online.

The timeline to notify the committee of a complaint is now and within a “reasonable amount of time” the committee will review each submission.

Parents can appeal any decision made by the committee. In those cases, the school board will review the material, and any decision it makes is final.

This book reviewing issue has been ongoing in Clay and other Florida school districts.

Clay County received national attention last summer when a dad’s comments at a school board meeting went viral when he attempted to read an excerpt from a book that involves a woman’s graphic retelling of a sexual assault.

The school district is still reviewing books as it considers these changes.

Just this week, the committee reviewed several books, including “Fangirl,” a young adult novel about a girl’s first year of college. Some parents groups have dubbed it “too hot for teens” and ”dangerously offensive.”

The district also keeps a running list of challenged books so far.

Those are books like, “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” a series of essays by George Johnson about growing up as a queer Black man, which was removed from all libraries. “13 Reasons Why,” which deals with suicide and was also a controversial Netflix series, was kept at the high school level. “The Handmaid’s Tale,” both the book and graphic novel, about a dystopia where women and other groups are oppressed by a totalitarian theocracy, is still under review.

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