A Florida school district added a parental ‘advisory notice’ to over 100 books

A Southwest Florida school district has added warning labels to more than 100 books, many of which deal with issues related to race or the LGBTQ community.

Public Schools in Collier County, a district that includes part of Naples, added the labels to both physical copies of the books and in Destiny, the district’s online catalog, according to the Florida Freedom to Read Project for Purpose. non-profit. The top of the tag, according to a photo shared with NBC News by the Florida Freedom to Read Project, reads “Notice to Parents” in all caps.

A notice to parents placed on more than 100 books in public schools in Collier County, Florida.Courtesy of Stephana Ferrell/Florida Freedom to Read Project

“This advisory notice will serve to inform you that this book has been identified by some members of the community as not suitable for students,” the label reads. “This book will also be identified in the Destiny system with the same rating. The decision as to whether or not this book is appropriate shall be the decision of the parent(s) who have the right to supervise their child’s education under state law. books, according to Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, which campaigns against censorship in Florida schools. Ferrell said a school district media specialist shared photos of the tags with her in June.

After a series of requests for public records on the labels, disputed books and the district’s establishment of a committee to review school materials, Ferrell said he received a phone call from Elizabeth Alves, associate superintendent of the Teaching and Learning for Collier County Public Schools.

Ferrell said Alves told him the district began adding the labels in February, after the district’s legal representative spoke with the Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative group that last year released a ” report on pornography in schools”. The report included a list of books that “promote gender self-identification and same-sex marriage” as well as titles that include “indecent and offensive material”, according to the group.

Alves defended the decision as “a compromise,” Ferrell said.

“I said, ‘It’s a shame, because it’s a literary work. The sticker they chose to put on it, the language they chose, would make any reader who would otherwise choose the book based on the cover and the description, it would make them think twice about to read the book,” Ferrell said. of his response to Alves.

Chad Oliver, a spokesperson for Collier County Public Schools, confirmed that Alves spoke to Ferrell but denied that the warning labels were added in response to a conversation with the Florida Citizens Alliance.

“Based on the advice of the Solicitor General, we have placed advisory notices on books about which parents and community members have expressed concern and in accordance with the recently passed Parents’ Bill of Rights Act. (HB 241),” Oliver said in an email, referring to a state law that allows parents to object to educational materials.

A total of 110 books feature the advisory labels, according to PEN America, a nonprofit group that promotes free speech. This list, which PEN America shared with NBC News, has significant overlap with a list of at least 112 books the Florida Citizens Alliance inquired about in a Dec. Necklace. Ferrell, who obtained the email via a public records request, shared a copy with NBC News.

Keith Flaugh, CEO and co-founder of the Florida Citizens Alliance, confirmed that his group had submitted a public records request for 112 novels in the district.

“Many of them contain sexually explicit and age-inappropriate content,” which he said in an email is in direct violation of Florida laws on obscenity and the sale of material harmful to minors. He also cited a 2017 law the group helped draft that allows parents and all state residents to object to educational materials and provide evidence of why they believe the material is inappropriate.

Gender Queer
“Gender Queer” by Maia KobabeOni Press

Some of the titles that appear on both lists — and which now carry a “Notice to Parents” warning label in Collier County Public Schools — include LGBTQ and race-related books that have landed on lists of books banned across the country. These titles include “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson and “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. The list also includes literary classics like Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” and Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

Also included is the popular ‘Everywhere Babies’ children’s book, an illustrated and rhyming book about what babies do. The illustrations include what could be interpreted as a few same-sex couples, but they are never identified as such in the text. The book first landed on a list of banned books in Walton County, Florida in the spring after the Florida Citizens Alliance included it in its 2021 “Pornography in Schools Report.”

“This is a really good example of how extreme this gets,” Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America, said in a phone interview. Some of the images in the book are “assumed to be gay”, he added, and therefore some reviewers believe they warrant a warning.

“These warning labels look like something you might see on a cigarette pack,” Friedman said. “They treat it like a controlled, alarming substance. This is literature for young people.

Oliver said none of the books were removed from district media centers and parents were notified of the labels in a district-wide email before spring break.

He added that the district is “very attentive and concerned about protecting the rights of all students and employees.”

“At no time were members of the LGBTQ community the focus of the district’s review,” Oliver said. “Whether we are following new state laws or addressing the concerns of community members, Collier County Public Schools is mindful of United States Supreme Court precedent based on First Amendment principles, the Equal Protection Principles of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Florida Civil Rights Act.”

The Florida Citizens Alliance supported the Parental Rights in Education Act, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” Act by LGBTQ advocates, which prohibits teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity “from kindergarten through 3rd grade or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate according to state standards.

Ferrell, an Orange County Public Schools mother of two, said she was worried about the message the label would send to parents about books their child might like. For example, she confided that her son loved the series “The Bad Guys”, by Aaron Blabey, which was disputed in Florida.

She added that the sticker does not include disclosure that it was placed there at the request of parents and community members, and therefore sends the message that the district agrees with the sticker feeling.

“Now I can’t go in there and make a decision on my own without seeing someone else’s opinion on this book,” Ferrell said.

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