The Volusia County School Board voted 4-1 on Tuesday, May 9, to adopt amendments to the board's policy on book selection, verbally clarifying that principals may not remove materials from library shelves.
One sentence among the amendments had caused concern among community members and media specialists, many of whom spoke at a March 28 meeting. The sentence, contained in the section titled "Responsibility for selection of materials," states, "Upon review, a principal may direct the removal of material he/she deems in violation of Florida law."
But School Board Attorney Kevin Pendley said that the language refers to principals consulting with media specialists during the selection process for print and non-print materials — meaning principals could remove materials from a purchasing list. But if the book was already on a library's shelf, it would have to go through the district's challenging process.
School Board member Ruben Colon voted against the policy amendments, saying the sentence was unclear.
"A lot of times, perception is everything," Colon said. "We wouldn't be having this conversation if everybody understood that it was in that section. ... For me, it's still very ambiguous, and I don't think it provides the clarity that we intend it to, personally."
Colon asked if words could be added to the sentence to clarify that the removal would happen during the purchasing part of the process, but Pendley said "substantive change to the length of the text" would require the district to formally advertise the policy changes, which would delay their adoption.
School Board member Carl Persis also sought clarification, asking if legislative changes could bring the policy back to the board for more amendments in the near future. Pendley said no.
"I wish we would have spent as much time on discussing how to get children to read, or how to teach children to read, or how to encourage children to read as we have spent trying to figure out what books they shouldn't read," Persis said.
Board Chair Jamie Haynes said she was frustrated that misinformation has been circulating in the community. Some teachers have called her and asked why the district is removing Dr. Seuss, asking teachers to take down classroom libraries, or banning them from talking about civil rights activist Ruby Bridges. None of those accusations are true, Haynes said.
She added that a year ago, she "naively" believed school libraries didn't carry a single book that contained sexually explicit material.
"I do believe if you as a parent want your child to read sexually explicit material, you have that right," Haynes said. "But you have the right where you can oversee and make that selection. I believe having unfettered access to children, who are not adults yet, and without their parents knowing what they have access to — that's why there are laws."
The only changes made to the policy, Haynes said, are to ensure the district is in compliance with Florida law. The policy now specifies that materials selected must be in compliance with state statutes and details the composition of a book review committee.
"This doesn't have to be an us-versus-them," Haynes said. "This doesn't have to be about politics."