POLK COUNTY, Fla. — More than a dozen books have been pulled off the shelves of Polk County Public Schools libraries while the school district determines if they are appropriate.
Polk County is not alone. There is a growing number of book bans sweeping the United States.
“Everybody’s story matter,” said Shawanda Bonner Morgan.
Morgan has been teaching English in Polk County for 15 years. She knows firsthand how literature can shape a student’s perception of the world and of themselves.
“If you want to know who you are, where you come from and what has made this country what it is, the good, the bad, the ugly, you’ve got to put different texts in front of kids. And you’ve got to not be afraid of the stories that are told within those pages,” Morgan said.
She’s against Polk County Public Schools’ decision to pull 16 books from school libraries while the district reviews them.
“It definitely is a threat to free speech, to free thought and to true critical thinking,” said Morgan.
This comes after the group County Citizens Defending Freedom filed a complaint to the district. The group determined the books were age-inappropriate and contained pornographic material, violating Florida Statue 847.012, meant to protect minors from harmful material.
Books CCDF want to be banned from Polk County Public Schools:
- “Two Boys Kissing” by David Levithan
- “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini
- “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer
- “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher
- “The Vincent Boys” by Abbi Glines
- “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie Harris
- “Real Live Boyfriends” by E. Lockhart
- “George” by Alex Gino
- “I am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
- “Drama” by Raina Telgmeier
- “Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult
- “More Happy Than Not” by Adam Silvera
- “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
- “The Bluest Eyes” by Toni Morrison
- “Tricks” by Ellen Hopkins
- “Almost Perfect” by Brian Katcher
ABC Action News reached out to CCDF about the proposed book ban. In a statement they said in part:
“Parents and guardians should be aware and informed about any questionable, illegal, or malicious content offered to their children in a school setting. It is the sole discretion of each individual parent or guardian to determine what materials are appropriate in broadening and shaping their children’s individual development.”
The books being targeted include two written by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison – “Beloved” and “The Bluest Eye.” “Beloved” tells the story of one family’s trauma from physical and sexual abuse as slaves.
Other novels tackle LGBTQ+ issues or suicide like “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher.
“The texts that are being challenged are very clearly related to diversity issues. They are written by diverse authors,” Morgan said.
The push to ban books has also made its way to Hillsborough County Public Schools. According to The American Library Association there has been a "dramatic uptick" in challenges to books that focus on LGBTQ+ issues and that document the Black experience.
In November, the organization said in a press release:
“ALA strongly condemns these acts of censorship and intimidation.
We are committed to defending the constitutional rights of all individuals of all ages to use the resources and services of libraries. We champion and defend the freedom to speak, the freedom to publish, and the freedom to read, as promised by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.
We stand opposed to censorship and any effort to coerce belief, suppress opinion, or punish those whose expression does not conform to what is deemed orthodox in history, politics, or belief. The unfettered exchange of ideas is essential to the preservation of a free and democratic society.”
“White backlash continues to rear its ugly head. It happens whenever progress is being made by different marginalized groups,” said Morgan.
Polk County Public Schools Superintendent Frederick Heid said the books in question will be read in their entirety by two committees made up of teachers, parents, students and community members.
There will then be a vote by signed ballot on whether to ban the books.
If you would like to be a part of the review committee, you can apply online. The deadline to apply is Feb. 13.