- December 3, 2021
For almost a year, Flagler Schools has allowed parents to choose what books their children can check out from their schools' media centers.
On Wednesday, Jan. 25, Flagler Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt and Assistant Superintendent for Academic Services LaShakia Moore discussed the policy at a Florida House Education Quality Subcommittee hearing.
Polk County Superintendent Fred Heid also spoke at the hearing in favor of his district's opt-out policy, and the three district officials answered questions from State Representatives.
Moore, who led the development of the district's policy, introduced a Flagler Schools' video which detailed the three-level process. Parents who select level one allow their children to have full access to their age-appropriate material. Level two originally allowed families to choose five books that they did not want their children to read. But now the district is allowing families to opt out of as many books as they want, Moore told the subcommittee.
"We started off saying, 'let us know the five books,' because at that point in time we did not have an abundance of (book) challenges that were happening," Moore said.
In level three, parents pre-approve all books before their children can check them out.
"We want this to be a positive environment for our families where they sit together as a family and identify those books that their child is allowed to read."
—LASHAKIA MOORE, Flagler School assistant superintendent
"We did not want to have our families opting out of media services, because we know that our media centers are for more than just checking out books. And so, for level three, we went with our pre-approval process," Moore said. "We want this to be a positive environment for our families where they sit together as a family and identify those books that their child is allowed to read, rather than for them to just completely opt them out of media service as a whole."
Moore said the district encourages parents to contact their child's school media specialist.
"It really gave an opportunity for our media specialists to meet with our families and have a great dialogue with them (about) what are current practices we have in place and to ensure that we're answering their questions," she said.
Moore said in a district of almost 13,000 students, only 10 families have selected level 3. Mittelstadt said that over 300 families have engaged in the process.
"I think as this becomes more of a focus moving forward in the spring in all of the districts, ... it might elevate to a higher level of communication," Mittelstadt said.
She said there is already a lot of interest by stakeholders in the the community.
Mittelstadt and Moore were asked if Flagler currently lists all the books that community members have challenged for removal from the schools' media centers.
"We do list that on our website," Moore said.
Under Media Services on the Flagler Schools site, there are currently 22 books listed that have been challenged. Three of the books — "The Haters", "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" and "L8R, G8R" — have been removed from all of the district's schools, according to the website's list. Four have been kept on the shelves at this point — "The Kite Runner," which is part of adopted curriculum; "SOLD" and "Breathless", which are now only available in the two high schools; and "The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian".
But the list does not include, "The Nowhere Girls", one of the books that Flagler County Chapter Moms of Liberty representatives have challenged.
At two recent School Board meetings, Moms of Liberty Chapter Chair Shannon Rambow criticized the district for keeping "Nowhere Girls" on the shelves during the challenge process.
"The sex parts start on Page 9," Rambow said at the Jan. 17 board meeting.
Moore told the subcommittee that the school principal and the media specialist make the decision on whether to keep a book in circulation during the challenge process, which starts on the school level and can advance to the district, the superintendent and finally to the School Board.
Moore told the Representatives that the district has eliminated access to all ebooks while it continues to develop the parental choice process in accordance with state statute.
Said Mittelstadt: "We've embraced (parental choice) in Flagler County as an opportunity to have some great conversations with our parents recognizing choice, having them realize what we have in terms of materials available to our students. And so, those dialogues have been very powerful."