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Sarasota mother's book ban attempt fails, but parental consent for middle school needed

The book called "Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You" by Ibram Kendi and Jason Reynolds discusses systemic racism in the U.S.

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — There is now a new rule for middle schoolers at Sarasota County Schools about access to a book that one parent wanted to be banned entirely from school libraries.

At a special hearing Tuesday, board members and concerned citizens discussed whether to ban a book titled "Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You" by Ibram Kendi and Jason Reynolds. The book, which discusses systemic racism in the U.S. and how it has impacted black people, is available at nearly a dozen of the county's public schools including Venice Middle School where the complaint originated.

"This is a healthy discussion about what's appropriate in our school district," Allison Euker, the mother who wanted the book banned, said.

While the book is not part of the school curriculum or instructional material, Euker voiced concerns about the book being available in middle school libraries because she said it promotes critical race theory and teaches children that white people are inherently racist.

"This is about understanding the impact within our society, within our children, within their interaction, and also their emotional well-being to take that information in," Euker said.

The goal of the appeal, for which Euker started the process in May 2022, was to get the book removed from all school libraries. While Euker said her child had already read the book, she was initially offered the option of providing consent before her child could access the book, according to school records. The school later restricted access to only eight grade students but that was unsatisfactory to the parent and resulted in an appeal before the school board.

While that bid to ban the book failed, the outcome of the long meeting was that school board members voted three to two to keep the book in their libraries, but middle school students would now need parental consent to check it out.

The school district came to that resolution after a very vibrant and civil discourse that included parents and students as well as community members.

"Happy Black History Month! Now let's ban a book saying racism is wrong," mocked Tallulah Brand, a middle school student attending the hearing with her mother.

"I think it's ridiculous for the book to be banned, considering the reason, racism. You want to be in a book saying racism isn't right and your reason is that this book is racist?" Brand said. "We can't start banning books because one person has an issue with it. At that rate we would not have any books left," she said.

"To flourish in our world, students require bright, educational opportunities that shouldn't be stifled," Robin Willams, a local activist, said.

School board members also weighed in on the issue and at different points requested clarity and guidance on how the book came into circulation and whether its presence violated any laws. The board was advised that the book, which has different versions for different age groups was age-appropriate and did not violate any laws because it is categorized as self-selection.

"One parent's decision should not supersede another parent's decision and I've always said that and then, yet, we have the ultimate responsibility of towing that line and putting guard rails in place," Bridget Zeigler, Sarascot County school board chair who voted no on all the versions of the motion, said.

"Even though it has not been abused, it could become abused from what we are just seeing that anybody could just come up and challenge a book, and off we go to the races and we end up back here again and it would mean that when one book would need notifying a parent, do we have to notify for 350 books or 2,000 books?" Tom Edwards, another board member who voted against the final motion, said. "Then we now have to start figuring out how we get around that system."

"It's impactful at Venice Middle School, it's impactful at Pineview. It's Impactful all the way across the board no matter where you're at," Tim Enos, one of the school board members who voted for the consent requirement for middle schoolers, said.

Robyn Marinelli and Karen Rose were the other votes for the parental consent requirement.

"I do respect all parents, and their rights, I am not for book banning at all, but as a constitutional state officer, if indeed, we were violating the law, then I would have to follow the law. But according to our attorney, we are not, so as far as I’m concerned, the book stays in our library," Rose. said "I personally would like to follow what the school district's decision was but it’s not up to my personal feelings.

"They recommended it be for the eighth grade, which I think is appropriate but I represent everyone so that’s why I agree with the motion. I would not be in favor of banning the book as it stands now with the way the state law is."

During the discussion, it was revealed that the review process cost the school district more than $20,000 in labor and time spent. However, Euker was commended for following the process through as it allowed the school system and staff an opportunity to have an example of how to handle such an issue.

The exception to this new policy for access to the book is that high school students will neither need parental consent nor parental notification to check the book out of the library.

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