JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County Public Schools is retracting the information contained in a Wednesday memo from the district’s Supervisor of Instructional Materials and Media Services Michelle Dibias.
The email memo was distributed to the hundreds of teachers, parents, stakeholders and community members who filled out a public survey that gauged their experience and connection to district operations.
According to DCPS director of communications, Dr. Tracy Pierce, the email was sent before the information contained in it was verified and confirmed.
“The email regarding the book reconsideration committee and process was sent prematurely,” Pierce wrote in a follow-up memo. “Unfortunately, it included information and details that are not final and could change significantly over time. I apologize to you and everyone else that received that note for this confusion and miscommunication. We will respond directly to those who received that note [Friday] and publish correct information in the near future.”
At least 360 respondents filled out the district’s survey, which asked them about how they’re connected to the district, what grade level they would be most comfortable reviewing materials for and whether they’d agree to read or review the whole book before taking part in scrutinizing it.
According to state law, the committee, which DCPS refers to as the “instructional materials reconsideration committee,” must include at least one instructional staff member, at least one certified media specialist and at least one lay person.
The committee was created in response to a controversial law signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that heavily restricts books that deal with LGBTQ topics and anything that might be considered “critical race theory.”
Mother of five Cathy Driscoll is one of the hundreds of people who signed up to take part in the review teams.
“The biggest thing bothering me about this is I feel like teachers who are the professionals are not being trusted,” said Driscoll. “That concerns me.”
Driscoll said she wants to be on the review teams in order to prevent the removal or restriction of materials based on someone’s social or political ideology.
“I can appreciate that certain parents don’t want their kids to read certain things, and that’s certainly within their rights,” Driscoll said. “But to say that no kid can read it because I don’t want my kid to read it, that’s, yeah, I don’t agree with that.”
Caitlin Baiata, who has two children in a Duval County elementary school, also signed up, hoping to keep classroom libraries robust and diverse.
“I don’t want anything pornographic that my children are reading,” Baiata said. “But I also think that it’s important to have a multitude of books available to children that have all different backgrounds.”
Justin Kugler said he signed up to make sure his two children have access to as much reading material as possible at their public school—an education that, he said, launched his career in aerospace engineering.
“I’ve always loved reading, and I want my kids to have that same joy of reading because that’s how we find new knowledge,” Kugler said. “That’s how we learn new things more than anything else.”
Duval County School Board policy regarding challenged materials
Complaints concerning instructional materials and requests for reevaluation of instructional materials including library media materials shall be presented in writing and shall bear the complainant's signature. Such complaints and requests shall be referred to the Superintendent by the Supervisor of Instructional Materials.
I. Written complaints and requests for reevaluation of instructional materials shall contain as much of the following information as possible:
A) The title of the book, recording, film, or other item of instructional material under consideration.
B) The name and address of author, publisher, or sponsor.
C) Citation of the pages and specific passage or items in question.
D) Identification of the complainant and a statement of his/her basis for criticizing or requesting of a reevaluation of the particular item.
II. The following procedures shall be followed in handling such complaints and requests for reevaluation of instructional materials.
A) The Chief Officer, Academic Services or designee and a committee appointed by the Superintendent or their designee shall evaluate the complaint or request. The committee shall be composed of at least one instructional staff member, at least one certified media specialist, and at least one lay person.
B) The Chief Officer, Academic Services or designee and a committee appointed by the Superintendent or their designee shall evaluate the complaint or request. The committee shall be composed of at least one instructional staff member, at least one certified media specialist, and at least one lay person.s shall be designated parental permission; provided, however, they may be checked out by students with written parental consent. District-adopted materials may continue to be used under teacher supervision.
C) The committee shall consider the material both on the basis of its individual merits and its relationship to the total instructional program. The committee shall submit a signed written report to the Chief Officer, Academic Services and the Superintendent who shall present the report with appropriate comments to the School Board.
D) The complainant shall be notified by the Chief Officer, Academic Services when action has been taken by the Superintendent or designee on the complaint or request for reevaluation. When materials are removed from the District, a notification shall be sent to the author, publisher, or sponsor and to personnel concerned with the action. Annually, a report will be submitted to the Commissioner of the Department of Education that identifies each material for which the district received an objection for the school year and the specific objections, as well as material that was removed or discontinued as a result of the objection, and the grade level and course for which removed or discontinued material was used, as applicable.Duval County Public Schools Board Policy Handbook, Chapter 4, Section 30