Florida School Board Bans Book About Banning Books



Indian River County School Board members said they disliked how it referenced other books that already had been removed from schools and accused it of “teaching rebellion of school board authority.”

play

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — School officials here have banned a book about book banning.

The School Board last month voted to remove “Ban This Book” by Alan Gratz from its shelves, overruling its own district book-review committee’s decision to keep it.

The children’s novel follows a fictional fourth grader who creates a secret banned books locker library after her school board pulled a multitude of titles off the shelves.

School Board members said they disliked how it referenced other books that had been removed from schools and accused it of “teaching rebellion of school board authority,” as described in the formal motion to oust it.

The book, which had been in two Indian River County elementary schools and a middle school, was challenged by Jennifer Pippin, president of the local chapter of Moms for Liberty, a national conservative group that has become one of the loudest advocates for removing books they deem inappropriate.

The book has also been challenged at least one other time in Florida, in Clay County, but school officials there decided to keep it in circulation.

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

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

The school board’s decision

The school board voted 3-2 to remove the book, but that decision could have gone in the opposite direction just months before.

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

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

It all started when School Board member Brian Barefoot resigned, saying he was moving out of the district he was elected to represent. He tried to rescind that resignation the next day, after being told by a TCPalm reporter that his new home was actually in the same district.

He didn’t succeed.

Barefoot had been on DeSantis hit list of school board members statewide the governor wanted to target in the 2024 election, saying they don’t protect parental rights or shield students from “woke” ideologies. McDonald already had been running for Barefoot’s seat.

“We are elected — I was appointed, vote of one — we are here to represent the parent’s decisions, and the school board is the final authority for our citizens,” McDonald said at last month’s meeting, explaining some of his disagreement with the book.

“The title itself and the theme challenges our authority. And it even goes so far as to not only to mention books that are deemed inappropriate by school boards, including ours, it not only mentions them but it lists them.”

Florida Freedom to Read, one of the state’s loudest book access advocates, called the removal “truly absurd” in a social media post, adding, “This is what happens when you lose a nonpartisan majority.”

Not everyone agrees

At the same time, BookLooks.org, a book-rating website that is tied to Moms for Liberty and is commonly cited by those challenging books in schools, only gives “Ban This Book” a mild “1” rating out of 5 for inappropriateness.

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

School Board members opposed to the removal had a different opinion.

“It does not depict or describe sexual conduct, period. Maybe it refers to other books that do but it does not do that itself,” said Teri Barenborg, the School Board chair. “It’s a cute little book about a little girl that’s trying to defy establishment. Does she go about it in the right way? No. Does she learn her lesson? Yes.”

The main character, student Amy Anne, broke several school rules in the process of circumventing the board’s decisions, like taking pulled books from the librarian’s office to use in her own secret library.

McDonald accused the author of justifying such behavior because it was levied against the school board she disagrees with: “That lesson alone is at the heart of 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.”

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

McDonald was referring to a scene on the last page, where the main character is ironically reflecting on how the books were removed with fears they would “encourage kids to lie, steal, and be disrespectful to adults.” Instead, she thought, it was the book banning that prompted such behavior, which she had been punished for.

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

While Indian River County School Board members are given the final say in library content decisions, he compared that plot point to how they decided to pull his book despite it going through a review process when it was purchased and after it was challenged. Reviewers included both parents and school officials.

That also irked Barenborg.

“We’ve had several eyes on this book before it came to us,” she said. “Yet we’re going to be the five people that determine that we know all those people who determined the book was OK before it got to us. I have a hard time with that.”

Another criticism about “Ban This Book,” from School Board member Posca: “This book is really just a liberal Marxist propaganda piece.”

“I am liberal, guilty as charged,” Gratz rebutted, laughing. “I’m not a Marxist by any stretch. I think this is just the case of someone using hot-button political words to try and score points with supporters.”

Ultimately, it was book character Amy Anne finding the confidence to speak up at the public comment portion of a School Board meeting that led members to reinstating 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’ not the first banned book

“Ban This Book” is not the first book that’s been removed from public schools in Indian River County.

More than 140 books have been removed from school shelves following an objection, according to a list obtained through a public-records request. Moms for Liberty’s Pippin had filed all those objections.

Florida controversially twice picked Pippin, a public school student parent herself, to partake in a group to develop a state-sponsored training program on book removals for school librarians and media specialists.

Removed books that she challenged include classics like “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut and “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini.

She also got “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation” pulled from a high school. And, in response to her objection to a children’s book that showed the bare behind of a goblin, the school district drew clothes over it.

Indian River County is not the only place in Florida that has seen a surge in removals. Multiple measures signed by DeSantis have prompted local school leaders across the state to pull books in wildly varying ways, fearing running afoul of state law. It’s also prompted multiple lawsuits.

Meanwhile, DeSantis and other conservatives have raged against the “book ban” term. DeSantis says removals are being exaggerated, slamming “mainstream media, unions and leftist activists’ hoax of empty library bookshelves and political theater….”

At the same time, he’s bashed the explicit content found in certain school library books and pushed a law geared at limiting how many books someone can challenge if they’re not a student’s parent or guardian. 

But Gratz said the “heart of the problem” is that those trying to remove books aren’t 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 by a partnership with Freedom Forum and Journalism Funding Partners. USA TODAY Network-Florida First Amendment reporter Douglas Soule can be reached at DSoule@gannett.com.





Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top