A Flagler County School District review committee voted unanimously to keep Amy Reed's "The Nowhere Girls" on its high school library shelves.
A joint committee representing Flagler Palm Coast and Matanzas high schools had voted on Dec. 12 to retain the book, which was one of several books challenged by members of the Flagler County Chapter of The Moms for Liberty.
The complainant appealed the school committee's decision to the district committee, which voted 14-0 on the evening of Monday, March 13, to keep the book available for high school students to check out.
Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt can accept the committee's decision or overrule it and remove the book, which she did with the controversial "All Boys Aren't Blue" memoir in December of 2021.
"The Nowhere Girls" was the second challenged book heard by a district committee this month. The first, "Sold," by Patricia McCormick, survived an appeal on March 6. Mittelstadt accepted the decision.
The complainant appealed again on March 13 — this time to the School Board. Assistant Superintendent LaShakia Moore said the board will decide March 28 at its monthly meeting whether to accept the district's decision to retain "Sold" or remove the book.
If Mittelstadt agrees with the committee's verdict on "The Nowhere Girls," that book will likely also be appealed to the School Board.
"Sold" and "The Nowhere Girls" have similar, mature themes involving teenagers.
"Sold" is about a young girl who is sold into sexual slavery in India. "The Nowhere Girls" is about three new friends who are incensed by unpunished sexual assaults at their Oregon high school and rally other girls to challenge the school's rape culture and power structure that protects the perpetrators.
Both books are works of fiction based on real-life incidents.
They were both challenged on charges that they contain pornography and are not appropriate for the age of the student.
Moore, as supervisor of the district's media services, facilitates the district committees. She led off the district review of "The Nowhere Girls" by going over the state statutes which define obscenity as material "appealing to prurient interests," depicts, "in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct" and "taken as a whole lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value."
Ultimately, the review committee decided the book does not appeal to prurient interests and is not harmful to students in grades 9-12. The members agreed that the book describes sexual assault but not in an overly graphic way. They said the issue is important for high school girls and boys to be aware of.
The committee was made up of eight community members, two school media specialists, one teacher, one school administrator and two district staff members — an instructional professional and a digital support specialist.
Moore said the district's policy is to have at least one parent and one community member on each committee, but with 80 parents and community members signed up, she said they divided the pool and randomly assigned each person to a committee.
One committee member summed up Reed's story as "empowering young women to stand up for themselves and each other."
The rape culture is shown to be a "vile, disgusting thing," and it takes a unified front to effect change, another concluded.
It was not meant to be a comfortable read, a committee member said, "but discomfort has some power." Another member agreed that it was "powerful and heavy but not overdone."
The author is bringing ugly to you, and along with that she's bringing the beautiful voices forward." — DISTRICT BOOK REVIEW MEMBER
"At no point reading that book do you escape," a member said. "The author is bringing ugly to you, and along with that she's bringing the beautiful voices forward."
Several committee members noted that rape culture and an authority's inclination to disbelieve accusers is not new.
"It outrages me that we are still dealing with this. Why are we still here? Silence is violence because someone is letting it happen. And it continues to happen," a member said.
The committee agreed that the material is timely and relevant — "unfortunately yes," one member said — and has literary merit.
Separate from book challenges, the district also has a policy that allows parents to block their own children from checking out certain library materials or to pre-approve the materials they can check out.