Florida school district defends parental advisory notice for ‘unsuitable’ books


A Southwest Florida public school district is defending its decision to add a parental advisory notice to more than 100 potentially “unsuitable” books as the academic year begins Wednesday.

Collier County Public Schools has added an “advisory notice to parents” label to physical copies and the district’s online catalog Destiny.

“This Advisory Notice shall serve to inform you that this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students,” each label says. “This book will also be identified in the Destiny system with the same notation. The decision as to whether this book is suitable or unsuitable shall be the decision of the parent(s) who has the right to oversee his/her child’s education consistent with state law.”

Several LGBTQ and race-themed titles that school districts around the nation have banned this year have received the notice, including Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy,” George M. Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue” and Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.”

Schools spokesman Chad Oliver says the labels allowed community members to flag the books starting in February when the state enacted its Parents’ Bill of Rights Law.

The district has since created a procedure for its new Media Center Book Objection Review Committee to review and revise the labeling “as needed” during the new school year, Mr. Oliver said Monday.

“Our school district is mindful of and concerned with protecting the rights of all students and employees,” the spokesman said in an email. “It is also important to note that Collier County Public Schools has not removed any books from our media centers.”

The new committee conforms to recent state laws that empower parents “to object to media center books” and possibly remove them, he added.

“To ensure that parents retain control over what their child is reading from the media center collection, we provide parents directions for accessing the online system in order to view books checked out by their child,” Mr. Oliver said.

PEN America, a New York-based free speech advocacy group that tracks book censorship, published a list of all 110 flagged titles.

“This alarming development is just the latest in an onslaught of attacks against students’ freedom to read in Florida,” Jonathan Friedman, PEN America’s director of free expression, said in a statement. “Even if access to these books is not technically restricted, the labeling of these books risks attaching a stigma to the topics they cover and the books themselves.”

But Nicole Neily, president of the conservative Parents Defending Education, compared Collier’s advisory notice to rating a movie or video game for mature content.

“This is a creative solution to an ongoing issue in society: the library isn’t ‘banning’ or ‘prohibiting’ books, but merely providing parents with information so they can make an informed decision,” Ms. Neily said Monday.

Book challenges have intensified in the wake of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Law, which bans lessons on sex and gender in K-12 classrooms.

Legislatures in several states have passed versions of the law, which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis promoted as a defense of parents’ constitutional right to direct their children’s education.

“Broadly speaking, the governor’s position is that school districts should work with parents and keep the lines of communication open,” Christina Pushaw, a spokesperson for Mr. DeSantis, said Monday.


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