A FlaglerLive investigation
The Flagler County school district made national news exactly a year ago when School Board member Jill Woolbright sought to ban four books from school libraries and filed a criminal complaint against the superintendent for allowing alleged obscenity to be on library shelves. Board member Janet McDonald joined Woolbright in the campaign. One book was banned. The other three were returned to library shelves.
Woolbright and McDonald lost elections to remain in public office, and will vacate their seats next week. By summer the district had developed a new policy intended to balance parents’ rights to prohibit their own children from accessing certain library books while preserving the right of full access for others. The policy became a model around the state. The policy should have made book challenges moot.
It did not. The school district has been quietly and steadily banning or removing books from library shelves at Flagler Palm Coast High School, Matanzas High School, Indian Trails Middle School and Buddy Taylor Middle School since summer, FlaglerLive has found.
Lucky, by Alice Sebold: banned.
Push, by Sapphire, banned.
A Court of Mist and Fury, by Sarah Maas, banned.
The Upside of Unrequited, banned.
The Haters, the book by Jesse Andrews, banned.
l8r g8r, Lauren Myracle’s novel, banned.
The district has been removing the books in two ways, but in both cases after receiving book challenges from people wanting them banned. Over the summer, libraries simply removed the controversial titles from circulation as part of the “weeding” of shelves that periodically takes place anyway, thus masking controversial removals by lumping them with more routine removals, as with books that have been worn down or lost their relevance. In other cases, schools banned books outright after meetings of media committees. Those meetings are ongoing, with a lists of books yet to be judged.
Either way, the bans and removals have taken place without public notice or discussion beyond librarians’ or committee’s judgments, and without involvement of the School Board.
Existing policy requires any challenges to be filed at the school level, where a committee handles it there first. Before Woolbright’s manufactured scandal last fall, there had not been a book challenge in the county in two decades, the last one traced back to the early 2000s at Indian Trails Middle School, where it was quickly handled and dismissed by the librarian there: the book survived. But book challenges in the last year and a half have become part of a militant push to use school libraries and students’ reading materials as bargaining chips in an ideological culture war across the country.
The Florida front has been especially active. On one hand, Gov. Ron DeSantis has sided with the culture warriors under the guise of empowering parental rights. On the other, he signed legislation expanding the rights of individuals to challenge any media or curricular materials in schools on vague criteria. So “the District was required to develop a process that allows concerned parents and/or members of the community to submit a request for consideration of a book that is on the District’s shelves that may not be appropriate,” Kristy Gavin, the district’s attorney, wrote one of the challengers in August, explaining the process.
Serial challenges have followed. They have been identical in district after district, reflecting more of an ideological strategy to undermine educational norms than earnestly to engage with the literary or cultural value of books.
As is usually the case with book bans, those filing the challenges are not reading the books, particularly not with challenges filed in Flagler County, FlaglerLive found.
The Flagler district has made filing challenges much easier. If the book is on several schools’ library shelves, one challenge will be sufficient for a committee, or joint committees, to make wholesale rulings applying to the book’s presence in all schools. Previously, a challenge had to be filed at each school where the book was present.
If the person making the challenge wants to appeal the decision, the appeal goes to a district committee. That step can be defanged: the superintendent has authority to overrule the district committee, as Superintendent Cathy Mittlestadt did regarding All Boys Aren’t Blue last year. The district committee recommended that the book be returned to library shelves. Mittlestadt overruled. The superintendent’s decision may be appealed to the school board. No such appeals have been filed to reinstate that book, or any of the books banned since: when few people know about the bans, fewer still are likely to challenge the challengers.
The challengers consist mostly of three individuals who are associated with Flagler County’s “moms for liberty,” a vigilante group that’s led the charge of banning books and restricting rights of LGBTQ students across the state, with DeSantis’s support. As often as not the group’s members don’t have children in schools–just as Woolbright did not when she challenged the books. But Florida law gives any resident of a county the right to challenge books or any curricular materials in any schools in the county of his, her or their residence. (Challengers’ pronouns are almost exclusively binary.)
According to a comprehensive list of challenges filed in Flagler schools and obtained by FlaglerLive, the three challengers are Shannon Rambow, president of the local moms for liberty, Cheryl Lackey and Terri McDonald. Others are more peripherally involved. Rambow and Lackey were contacted by email and asked what led them to challenge the books. neither replied, other than for one line from Lackey: “How did you get my information?” The trio filed two dozen challenges at the four high and middle schools, with some of the challenges overlapping titles.
Rambow initially filed the first list of challenges on Aug. 3, consisting of 17 titles.
“Ms. Rambow has been working really hard to be part of the school system and her group,” School Board member Cheryl Massaro said from the dais at the end of the Sept. 20 board meeting. “They’ve read books, and books, and books, and these are books that the majority of our media specialists don’t have time to look at. There’s thousands of books in the library.” Massaro claimed Rambow and her group had read them and “helped bring certain things to our attention,” a reference to Rambow’s list.
Massaro was misinformed. FlaglerLive obtained the entirety of Rambow’s, Lackey’s and McDonald’s communications with all school district employees since summer. There is no indication from any of the communications that any of them have read the books, let alone that they understand the books they are challenging from a literary or contextual perspective.
Rather, the challenges appear to be word-for-word, cut-and-paste copies from a website drawn up as a guide for vigilante groups across the nation, literally giving the militants chapter and verse capabilities to cite books and quote by page number the passages they find objectionable, down to the number of objectionable words used in the given books. Rambow cited the website in an email to a district staffer on Aug. 3: “I can provide book reports and additional information or you can find it at booklook.info,” she wrote “That is a great site all media people should review it and get more info on the books that are in our schools.”
The website describes itself as “a group of volunteers reading, preparing reports, and exposing the content of books that contain concerning material.” But it does not provide the same transparency about its own identity: there is no “About” page, no names of volunteers or leadership structure, no explanations or criteria followed in drawing up “book reports” that find titles objectionable. The website was created last March in Arizona, but it hides its identity otherwise, though it is clearly the product of moms for liberty groups, based on some of the videos it posts: “M4L Fighting Against Porn” (sic.), for example, and “19 More books To be Pulled from Libraries.”
The website is every book challenge’s shortcut. Isabel Sebold’s Lucky, for example, uses the word “bitch” six times, “fuck” seven times and “shit” three times, according to the site’s “book report.” The novel Push, by Sapphire, contains the same words, but in greater numbers, and also has 14 instances of “motherfucker.” And so on. The site also provides for each book a play-by-play or page-by-page transcript of the more salacious passages. Those passages are provided so that militants can read them for effect at school board meetings or quote them in book challenges, the way they are quoted in Flagler County schools, saving the challenges the bother of acquiring, cracking or analyzing the books for themselves.
Unlike the Flagler County Library, which requires anyone who challenges a book not only to read the book, but to defend the challenge in front of the Library Board of Trustees–answering questions and testing the authenticity of the challenger’s claims–Flagler schools make no such requirements. So challenges can be cribbed from copycat sites or, more accurately, faked.
And in fact, as with Terri McDonald’s challenge of Crank, filed on Oct. 13–to take one example–McDonald appears not to have even read the book report so much as simply recopied the page numbers of the objectionable passages, while cutting and pasting the summary that appears at the beginning of the book report: “This book contains explicit excerpts involving sexual intercourse and sexual battery involving minors and explicit excerpts sensationalizing illegal drug use.” Unlike Rambow, who at least gave credit, nowhere does McDonald cite the source of her words, or note that the words aren’t hers. The challenges themselves are works of plagiarism.
The Flagler district challenge form asks questions of the person challenging the book. But again and again, McDonald cuts and pastes the same statements.
Rambow does McDonald one better: in two instances, she simply copied an image of the chart of books that the website she pointed to find objectionable, and pasted that image into her email, which she then sent to the district by way of a challenge.
Rambow initially was told by district staff that the challenge was improperly filed, and that it had to be done according to district procedure, using the district’s challenge forms. That’s what then prompted McDonald to file the serial challenges to the same book titles that were on Rambow’s list, one after the other. But that was more of a formality. The district was ahead of her, cowering to the challenges in waiting.
There is no question that the banning of the books that followed, starting in August and before the formal convening of media specialist committees, was a direct result of the Rambow list and what followed–and that the books were, in fact, banned, not merely “removed’ as part of a weeding process. The titles of books removed are identical to those on Rambow’s list, communications between district staff and the challengers reveal. (“It is my understanding that you are wanting these books removed from the inventory,” Gavin, the school board attorney, had written Rambow after Rambow filed her original list. “This requires the process to be followed so we can be in compliance with state law.”)
The day after one of McDonald’s challenges, Indian Trails Middle School principal Ryan Andrews wrote Teri McDonald, and informed her that the book had been removed over the summer. Same story with Thirteen Reasons Why, the Jay Asher book (seven asses, one “dick,” one “piss” and one “shit,” plus the line, “I’m sorry. Is this getting too graphic for some of you? Too bad.”) It was removed over the summer. Andrews described it as “pulled from circulation.”
Same story with Lucky, which was pulled from the shelves at Flagler Palm Coast High School and Matanzas High School, according to Oct. 14 emails by Bobby Bossardet and Kristin Bozeman, the schools’ principal (writing to McDonald). Same story with Push, pulled from both FPC and Matanzas, and A Court of Mist and Fury, removed from FPC shelves. Tilt was challenged at Matanzas, but it had never been there, that school’s principal told McDonald. The Upside of Unrequited was removed from Buddy Taylor Middle School shelves.
The Haters, the book by Jesse Andrews (67 instances of “fuck”), was banned after a committee review at FPC.
In a follow-up email last week, Bossardet left no doubt when writing McDonald why the books had been removed: they “do not meet our currenc circulation criteria [and] will be pulled from circulation (or were previously pulled earlier this year), and are no longer available for students at Flagler Palm Coast High School.”
Just one book survived the Oct. 26 committee meeting: Sold, the Patricia McCormick book about the human trafficking of a minor girl sold into slavery. “The committee determined this resource is appropriate for use and should be retained as a resource available to teachers and students in our media centers. We do understand that not all books are appropriate for all students,” Bossardet wrote McDonald in a memo on Oct. 28.
As of that day, there were still many titles awaiting “review” by school committees: The Nowhere Girls, The Upside of Unrequited, Crank, The Truth About Alice, Last Night and the Telegraph Club, The Black Flamingo, Damsel, What Girls Are Made Of and Breathless. The challengers’ successes so far were likely either to embolden the group to file yet more challenges, assuming they can find ready-made lists of books to ban, or to push further into the banning process itself.
Lashakia Moore, the district’s assistant superintendent who oversees libraries and the reconsideration committee, extended an invitation to Rambow–and not just Rambow–to join the district committee: “will you please share with me the names and contact information for anyone from your organization that would like to serve on the reconsideration committee,” Moore wrote Rambow on Oct. 17.
Rambow immediately sent in her own name and those of Terri McDonald and Chanel Channing, soon adding Lackey, her own daughter, Robyn Rambow, and Kathy Barnett to the list. By October 24, Rambow had gotten antsy, itching for a committee meeting: “I still haven’t heard back from you as to when the committee meeting is scheduled for,” she wrote Moore. “I find it very disheartening that neither you or Mr Reeves will communicate with me.”
Moore replied the next day that she’d be in touch. By the time this article initially published, Moore had not reply to a series of questions a reporter sent her today.
Joe D says
Rather than BANNING or removing the concerning books, why not move them to a “restricted” section within the library, with possibly a locked glass case like some colleges do with rare research books or art books. Getting parental consent kept on file might answer the challenges of Moms for Liberty and any other censor group
That way their children can be protected from material they deem offensive or inappropriate ( no parental permission slip on file), but allow children of more free idea thinking parents to give their written permission for access to the books.
Of course, there would be no stopping of discussion among “permissioned”
and “non-permissioned” students, unless the restricted books also came with duct tape!
As with the mask debates and vaccine debates, why not let INDIVIDUAL PARENTS decide, to what books they want their children exposed!
You go Flagler Live! Please keep up the good work!
I’d bet my bottom dime these women have no idea what these books are really about. To me, it sounds like some women, with low self esteem, little intelligence and little imagination, have found a little power in their powerless lives. A normal parent would not be interested in this type of power and would monitor their kids books themselves, and not try to be sneaky, and sleazy, about influencing and censoring the rest of us. It has absolutely nothing to do with liberty. They should call themselves “Pseudo Moms for Censoring Americans.” Shame on school staffs who cater to this censorship. Get another job.
Personally, I wish these people would get the hell out of our state and take their dystopian ideals with them.
If one of my students had turned a ‘report’ based on ‘cut and paste’ techniques they’d received a failing grade.
Robin, I’d guess these women did not receive the quality education they are trying to deny Flagler’s children.
Try to take away the kids phones, which is where they get practically all their information, and see how that goes lol.
As disturbing as it is to ban books or have them ‘mysteriously disappear’, it’s pointless in this day to believe kids can’t access that kind of information.
Most of us know telling kids they can’t experience something means now they really want to – these books weren’t important to the kids until they were banned.
It obviously has the opposite effect from what was desired when they were removed from the shelves, insulating kids from the world.
So, although it’s just symbolic in my opinion, this is a slippery slope, trying to deny young people information that will help them understand the real world, not the idealized one the ‘book banners’ fantasize about.
Nephew of Uncle Sam says
“Moms for Liberty” or “Moms for Taking Away Liberty from Others”? Unless they can prove that they read the book from beginning to end, mention exact detail, what they find objectionable and why these books should be pulled, then the books should remain. Unless Educators determine that said books should be removed after the proper requests are filed and vetted through Educators, not people getting their information from websites and snippets of conspiracy.
Old Guy says
I don’t have a problem with this as long as the challengers are following the prescribed procedures. Ms Woolbright did not do so and created needless controversy.
Why do schools even have libraries? Print is dead after all. We might want to reconsider the whole “public” school thing anyway. Government is the problem.
Instead of kindergarten there should be internships at corporations starting at five years old to get real world experience. I’m sure the libtards will cry that education should be free and learning is important but that’s just because they’re weak and afraid of hard work.
Says the Worshipper of a twice Impeached, 7 time Bankrupt grifter with a gold spoon buried somewhere and Draft dodger who never worked a Day in his Life. Send more $$ he needs it
The 19th century is calling… it wants its culture back……You obviously have no idea of the purpose of public education and the value our founders put on it, seeing an informed citizenry as essential to a free nation. Instead of school, you want children put into the corporate culture to get “real world” experience.
Apparently you only see people having value when they are attached to and dependent on corporations…. very sad.
“Libtards” – weak and afraid of work? Spewing the Trumpist/FOX talking points….that’s all you got?
Make America Dumb Again says
Obviously you don’t read books so it doesn’t matter to you.
They just want to ban books and end public school so people will stay uneducated Then you’ll vote for puppets that stare into an eclipse. Puppets that give those corporations free reign. Keep the rich rich and the poor poor. Keep dangling the rich dream in front of you like a carrot as you give all your rights away. It’s okay. You’ll be just like them one day, right?
Deborah Coffey says
Sounds like someone never read a book in his life and wants everyone to be that uneducated. Not going to happen.
Timothy Patrick Welch says
Good news… all the information ever recorded by man is available at a moments notice online.
No need to waste shelf space on books some find offensive.
Lets focus on the basics: reading, writing, math, financial literacy, arts, life skills, and hey why not throw in some competitive sports.
Sure, ban them all! says
Tim say,s, “I don’t read books so why doesn’t it matter?”
Merrill S Shapiro says
“Censorship is society’s way of saying what ideas are, or are not, permissible. In the case of religious zealots and Christian nationalists, it is a coercive way to remind marginalized people that they are a threat. It is easier to persecute books rather than the people whose lives mirror their stories. Material within the banned books forces people to rethink their place in the world; to recognize how they may benefit at the expense of purposefully forgotten and vulnerable people.”– Kristin Tolentino, Americans United for Separation of Church and State
And have you read some of their books? Lets add those to the ban list. Even the bible has things that you wouldn’t want second graders to read.
Edith Campins says
Precisely why the bible has no place in schools.
Timothy Patrick Welch says
The separation was and should be to allow freedom of religion, and prevent possible corruption of that religion by the government.
Every nation has a norms and morals, unfortunately some people find themselves outside of those accepted values. Those unfortunate few have no authority to alter society, and should have no reasonable expectation that the majority should alter their long held beliefs.
Just more “freedom” brought to you by the governor.
Concerned Citizen says
How is an organization for liberty? When they force their views on others?
That’s what Devout Hickocrites do while pointing their fingers at you
Hate to say this but the words, shit, fuck, and dick are part of some kids’ everyday vocabulary during everyday conversation, some parents have their heads in the sand if they believe their little Johnny or Suzie have never heard these words or have never used them. Just saying and yes they can find out anything on their phones.
No Bibles Please……………..that book is full of depictions of Slavery , Homosexuality’, Beastiality, Infanticide, Vampirism,
You go mom’s and protect your children. The system is broken and schools have become places of early indoctrination. The system let the foxes in years ago without parental warning all in the guise of acceptance, now you wind up the what we have in society today and writers who penned this article.certain to have their own bias.
J: I said it before, and I’ll say it again. Our daughter, while working full time, monitored, and worked with, her daughter’s school, teachers, curriculum, sports, pitched in for carpool at every game, volunteered for various projects, got the kid in advanced classes, and got her involved in summer projects.
What’s stopping you? Never heard of the PTA? Don’t have enough time? Are you banned from your kids schools? You need some people, needy for attention, to censor for you, and the whole rest us at the same time? Moms for Liberty, huh?
1. The condition of being free from confinement, servitude, or forced labor.
2. The condition of being free from oppressive restriction or control by a government or other power.
3. A right to engage in certain actions without control or interference by a government or other power.
American Heritage Dictionary.
Ben Hogarth says
I’m simply going to provide the same commentary that Sean Connery’s character provided in ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ when he was confronting the Nazi officer:
“It tells me, that goose-stepping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them.”
Book banning has been a frequent staple of the far-right extremist movement since the inception of this country. They didn’t win back then, and they won’t win today. “Moms for Liberty” – kind of like how Communist countries call themselves the “Peoples Republic of _____ ”
I hear more concerned parents spew the work “F**k” in front of their kids while standing in line at grocery stores or on stupid flags/bumper stickers around town than in those books. Believe me, these kids ARE learning all this stuff – and its NOT from these books. The stuff my daughter used to say happened at the high schools was mind-blowing.
Just ridiculousness from this Moms for Liberty … one of these days they are going to be the next Netflix documentary on crazy cult-like organizations….. Education STARTS AT HOME.
Enough is Enough says
Where is the “committee” to oppose the books being banned? Are we as a community and a society really going to allow these women to just push their beliefs on the students of Flagler County?
Furthermore, no one is forcing anyone to read these books, they are simply available to be read. It is no different than the information that is available to you on your phone, tablet or computer these days. You either choose to read it or you choose not to read it. What gives this group the right to dictate what someone chooses to read? The name of the group is so misleading and from what I have observed, they do more harm than good.
Shame on you for writing this article and making moms look bad. They are just trying to protect their children. At least they are banning books for good reason, unlike you people who banned dr Seuss because it “hurt your feelings.” And stop making everything out to be an LGBTQABCDEFG issue. It’s getting old…
Clueless. It’s like banging one’s head against the wall.
Dennis C Rathsam says
Amen Grace, Sticks & Stone may break my bones…but WORDS will never hurt me. This saying has been around for years, and it makes a lot of sence. Unless your a member of the WOKE Society. I applaude the mama bears, protecting thier cubs.
Common Sense from T. Paine says
You applaud (<– notice the correct spelling of that word) the mama bears for protecting their cubs from WORDS? The same words you just stated, could never hurt them?
I don't think the so-called 'woke' society is the only one with hurt feelings Seems like your feelings are a little hurt. Maybe you should read more words.
Deborah Coffey says
So now Flagler County has a Fascist school district. How cute. Wait until all these MAGAs lose the rest of their freedoms! They have no idea what’s coming….
GILEAD is coming….
Dennis C Rathsam says
The only one stripping our freedom & rights are democrats. Lies, misinformation, & the worst policies since the peanut farmer! We know whats comming FREEDOM!!!!! Free speech, not the bullshit Biden tells every day! Now that he is being fact checked by Elon, the world will see our lair in chief for who he really is!
Donald J Trump says
These three women need to get laid, their kids are probably doing drugs, enjoying sex and laughing at their so called parents.
Sorry, I’m calling BS on the author of this ridiculous hit piece and all of these replies as well. You want to tell me that if your grade school child came home with a book from school that sensationalizes drug abuse, oral sex, rape and other more mature topics that you’d be OK with it? Yeah, right.
You are such hypocrites. I’m glad there are people working in Flagler County to ensure young grade schools kids can’t find these books in our schools. We need more parents educated and aware of what’s happening in our schools to our kids. I guarantee you an overwhelming majority of parents would object. But, you probably know that already, so you bash volunteers and try to make them look bad. Pathetic.
I’m glad the school district had the sense to remove these harmful books. Most of those who’ve replied are trying to be righteous while accusing others of fascist behaviors. Nice try… that’s the standard reply these days when any Lib does not get their way.
You’re all more likely a desperate and minority group of Lib’s, angry to see the Democratic Party floundering badly. You’re trying to distract from your party’s failure and take it out on Mom volunteers who try to make a positive difference in this community. Sad.
Read the article, these people do not have children in school and have not read the materials they try to block.
I was horrified to receive a political hate mail ad in my mailbox, paid for by the “America First Legal Foundation.” Their goal seems to be “Hey, Whites and Asians, you’re being discriminated against!”
We must stop the practice of allowing a few uneducated malcontents from their attempt to destroy free speech and free thinking. If we don’t, “Team Hate” will grow their red tide to the point it will take a generation to correct. I do not say this with malice against these women. They know no better.
Not your business says
These moronic, bible-thumping idiot women should maybe read some of those books they’ve banned.
Oh wait. They probably can’t.
Because they’re f’n stupid.
Nina Mateyunas says
I wish there was a vigilante group like this for banning objectionable websites that any child with a cellphone can access. I hope the interest in wholesome reading and study continues. I applaud the efforts of these young parents