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16 challenged books to stay on Polk County shelves with parent opt-in system

In addition to the opt-in system, the superintendent is recommending some books be restricted to certain grade levels.

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — After a group called to have 16 books removed from Polk County Public Schools, most of them will be staying on library shelves — but not without some restrictions.

The district began its review process of the books after a group called County Citizens Defending Freedom USA said they contained inappropriate material for minors. The process, which spanned multiple months, enlisted two committees of parents, teachers, students and librarians who read each of the books to decide for which grade levels they were appropriate.

The committees completed their review on Tuesday, with the school district's superintendent recommending that all the books be retained but some be restricted to certain grade levels.

But, the 16 books will not be returned to school libraries just yet.

PCPS will also create an opt-in and opt-out system that will allow parents to choose which books their children have access to. The reviewed books will stay off the shelves until the system is finalized in the summer and take effect starting the 2022-2023 school year.

County Citizens Defending Freedom (CCDF), the conservative political group that made the original complaint, posted its response to the superintendent's recommendations on Facebook.

The statement said CCDF would "pursue legal action" if the opt-in/opt-out system "does not protect the children in Polk County Public Schools or follow Florida statutes regarding the protection of minors from obscene and harmful materials."

Community members spoke in favor and against a ban on the 16 books during Tuesday's school board meeting. 

Speakers at the meeting said the content in some books are sexually explicit or inappropriate for students. 

Opponents said it's important to preserve access to the books' material containing LGBTQ+ topics and race. They said students should have access to content that make them feel represented. 

"What is at stake is the ability for all of us to have a seat at the table, to be seen as equal, to have equity and to be respected," Shawanda Bonner Morgan, a school teacher within the district, explained.  

Bonner Morgan said the books represent work from marginalized people. Restricting material would undo recognition of the progress that's been made, she said.

Superintendent Frederick Heid said the opt-in/opt-out system empowers parents to have choices for what they feel is best for their kids.

The review comes at a time when The Florida Department of Education reinstated 17 math books to the state's adoption list following the removal of what it calls "woke content." 

The superintendent's recommendations for the 16 books under review:

  1. Almost Perfect (high school only)
  2. Beloved (high school only)
  3. The Bluest Eye (high school only)
  4. Drama (middle and high school)
  5. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (high school only) 
  6. George (all levels)
  7. I am Jazz (all levels)
  8. It's Perfectly Normal (high school only)
  9. The Kite Runner (middle and high school) 
  10. More Happy Than Not (middle and high school)
  11. Nineteen Minutes (high school only)
  12. Real Live Boyfriends (high school only)
  13. Thirteen Reasons Why (middle and high school)
  14. Tricks (high school only)
  15. Two Boys Kissing (middle and high school) 
  16. The Vincent Boys (high school only) 

Check out the full list of the superintendent's recommendations for each book here.

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