The Flagler County School District committee convened to judge the appropriateness of four books for teens in school libraries completed its work on Wednesday, with a report now being drafted by Lashakia Moore, the district’s curriculum specialist who headed the committee. The report is to be turned in to Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt, who is in Tampa at a conference with three school board members. The report will be released once Mittelsteadt signs off.
The challenges aren’t over: on Monday, Randall Bertrand, the parent of a student at Flagler Palm Coast High School, who has previously challenged the district’s authority to remove All Boys Aren’t Blue–one of the books under challenge–from library shelves, himself filed challenges to two volumes: the Bible, and Jean Auel’s Valley of the Horses, a 1982 historical fiction novel. “The Holy Bible in all versions and forms available in the Flagler Schools Media Centers contains material inappropriate for minor children in accordance with Florida Statute 847.012,” Bertrand wrote. “I will specifically cite Ezekiel 23:20-21 that makes graphic reference to genitalia and seminal fluid in comparison to that of domestic livestock.” A teacher attempted to read the Ezekiel verses at last month’s school board meeting but was stopped from doing so by the board chairman.
The Auel book, long considered a children’s book since its publication in the early years of the Reagan administration, includes a “male protagonist [who] is graphically depicted as having sex with a girl who is alluded to be under the age of 18,” Bertrand wrote, before citing another passage of “vivid” sex.
To any students of irony in literature, Bertrand’s challenges would be considered Exhibit A, as his intention is clearly not to have the books banned–he has made his repugnance at book bans very public–but to illustrate the absurdity of basing book challenges on passages cited out of context. Bertrand’s motives are irrelevant: The challenges now force the high school to answer them, convene a committee and issue a rationale for or against keeping the books.
The challenges are also an ironic response to the challenges that started them all: those of School Board member Jill Woolbright, applauded by fellow-member Janet McDonald. Woolbright in early November sought the immediate removal of four titles, calling one of them (All Boys Aren’t Blue)a “crime” to have included on library shelves, demanding that all four be reviewed–that was the subject of the Moore committee’s work–and in a criminal complaint later judged groundless by the Sheriff’s Office, demanded that “all” young adult books in school libraries be reviewed.
Woolbright and McDonald, along with Board member Cheryl Massaro, were with the superintendent in Tampa this week at the annual joint conference of the Florida School Board Association and the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. The conference included such sessions likely of particular interest to Woolbright and McDonald with such titles as “Ask the Attorney – Board Member Behavior Can Have Consequences,” “How to Legally Maintain Order at School Board Meetings” and “Making Meetings Student Focused Rather Than Adult Focused.”
Separately, and starting on Nov. 19, a local resident, Michelle L. Naupari, filed a public record request for the entirety of the book catalogue at Indian Trails Middle School. By last Monday, she had asked for the catalogues at Matanzas High School and Old Kings Elementary as well (Old Kings feeds into Indian Trails which feeds into Matanzas). The three catalogues were provided.
Meanwhile, the district’s eight media specialists, who are in charge of the nine school libraries–Wadsworth has no media specialist bat the moment–were summoned to meetings with district staff throughout the week. The inquiries were led chiefly by Robert Ouellette, the district’s coordinator for professional standards who usually investigates ethical and other wrongdoing internally. So the meetings led to speculation that the media specialists were being investigated, or at least questioned, about their practices, causing some to attend the meetings with their union representative.
In fact, while the meetings were fact-finding, the intention was not to question the probity of the specialists’ work or cast any kind of cloud or doubt above that work, but merely to gather information about current practices and lay the groundwork for state-required training of specialists taking place across the state. If anything, the meetings were designed to back the specialists and arm them with information they may have lacked, not to undermine them, people familiar with the meetings said, and School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin confirmed.
“This is taking place across the state because of this training element to the media specialists and librarians specifically targeted to not having these–what would be deemed inappropriate books within libraries, age-inappropriate books within libraries,” Gavin said, referring to an amendment in law in 2021 that specifically forbids sexually explicit materials from library shelves. But the amendment is overly vague and broad, lending itself to misapplications and misinterpretations. Districts are attempting to stay on the right side of the law with training sessions.
“It is creating angst within the media specialist at this juncture,” Gavin said. And so absolutely what we as a district, and Lashakia and her team, they, knowing that this change in law was there, they had already started getting ahead with–what are our processes, and this has been ongoing right now to try and develop better procedures and protocols for how we procure the books and giving more definition to them.” Moore will be presenting the substance of her work on that aspect of district procedures at a workshop. That work is separate, and unrelated to, the Moore committee reviewing books under challenge.
So the meetings with media specialists are a reflection of a much more active, supervisory and coordinating role Moore, who oversees all specialists, has taken since assuming the direction of the curriculum department–an assertive role in contrast with her predecessor’s in that position. Moore has been developing a district-wide handbook of media-center practices.
The presence of union representatives during the meetings with Ouellette is reflective of some fear among district staff that “if they speak, how they truly feel, that it could result in a retaliation,” Gavin said. “And so occasionally, they will want to bring their union representative.”
Regarding the recommendation of the Moore committee on the books under challenge–The books are The Hate You Give, All Boys Aren’t Blue, Speak and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You–Mittelstadt’s decision is final, unless Woolbright opts to appeal Mittelstadt’s decision to the school board. That would not be a surprise: Woolbright has already made clear that she is willing to implicate her superintendent in a crime, having named Mittelstadt in the criminal complaint she filed. But if the matter is appealed to the board, Woolbright would not have a vote, since it would be a conflict. Two board members are already on record opposing the book challenges and potential bans, and the third, Chairman Trevor Tucker, spoke strongly in favor of having more books in students’ hands, not fewer, and spoke strongly against a ban list of any sort.
Indications are that the books under challenge will be restored to library shelves, if with some clearer restrictions about age-appropriateness. For example, All Boys Aren’t Blue, a copy of which had been donated to the library at Buddy Taylor Middle School last June, would be allowed only at the high school libraries. The book’s author has targeted the books toward students ages 14 and up.
Deirdre Rutledge says
When books are banned, where does it end? It was certainly a problem in Germany during the Nazi reign; it was said by someone of German Jewish ancestry (decades prior to that) that when books are being burned people are next, it’s so tragic that it’s exactly what happened. In the history of American slavery, the people of African ancestry were not allowed to learn to read or write, it’s hard to disempower of people that have the opportunity to educate themselves. Should a minority of people with power make decisions that affect everyone? It certainly seems the target of much of this are gay students that need support and understanding of their choices, these kids have a very high suicide rate.
I think we should spend more time working with children on mental and emotional health issues then to remove books from the library. If this is allowed, we’re just looking at the start of it with a few books, it will escalate from there. The same thing goes from keeping the truth of history from children, why should the truth be hidden? Either we’re going to give students the opportunity to learn about social issues in a multifaceted way (aka education), or we’re going to limit their opportunity for knowledge based on someone else’s values. In my personal opinion, this is completely unacceptable, and now is the time to say so. If parents don’t want their children to be exposed to certain information, they should discuss that at home rather than keeping an entire community in ignorance. Maybe we should consider school shootings, or drug addiction, or bullying, for example, as areas to focus on instead of a few of books that a handful people don’t like. The superintendent is being sued? Teachers are afraid to speak their mind and need union representation to to express their opinions to other adults? The majority of people in this community need to speak up before this thing snowballs into a few people picking and choosing what’s acceptable for children to learn and what isn’t, based on their own personal values. We’ve come so far as a nation to enlighten future generations to truth, to accept the values of all people, to have empathy and understanding for all human beings, let’s not start walking backwards now.
Tamara Megee says
you are absolutely 100% correct!!! We NEED everyone in the community to come to the school board meeting on the 21st of this month. It doesn’t matter if you have kids in the system or not- this affects the entire community!!
I would also encourage people to watch the public comments of the school board meetings (September was particularly threatening)which are posted on the school board website. Many do not know what is going on in our county but everyone needs to. These people come from other counties to support their cause and they come in tactical gear with full face masks and helmets (which is funny because they also oppose masks lol). There are videos from the protest that happened at last months meeting – Flagler county citizens NEED to see these- to see the ACTUAL neo-nazis, 3%ers and proud boys. We have identified several of of these people and they are 100% confirmed white supremacists on video as bold as can be.
They are HERE and they are increasing in their numbers right here in Flagler. They go to these meetings yelling ‘1776’ and calling for the ‘south to rise again’. I’m not sure how to get these videos out to the public but if you find me on Facebook I can share them. I can also give anyone information about going to the school board meeting. Flagler county needs to rally about this. Join us!!
The books are not being banned, they are being banned from schools and children. If you want your children reading stuff like that, by all means get them the books and you could even read it to them. While you’re at it, you might as well get them an upgraded subscription to porn hub as well.
It is inaccurate to say the books aren’t being banned. Many students have ready access to books only at their school library.
No, the children actually have access to all the books in this country that we do, they may of course have to purchase the books, perhaps with their parents permission and money, but they are available just the same.
The commenter must not be aware if the high proportion of students in reduced or free lunches, or the fact that some may not want to have to get their parent’s permission out of fear, not all parents being enlightened about their child’s sexuality, and some bring downright dangerous about it. “Ban” is the correct term—the same term applied to a more recent comment by the same commenter for turning troll.
Willy James says
I just adore Mrs. Woolbright and the fact she is looking out for the students in Flagler County. She truly cares that our students are not going to be exposed to filthy literature that s sanctioned by the school board. I say “bravo” for taking on this difficult subject. I know you have had to take on the liberals and their hateful comments. I admire how to rise above it, I support her 100%.
There is another area that also needs to addressed and Mrs. Woolbright and Janice McDonald are the only ones capable of handling it. Matanza High School must change its image. The school identifies with pirates! That is deplorable. There was no glory being a pirate. Pirates committed murders, robberies, all kinds of sexual crimes, kidnapping, slavery, and the list goes on. In this era of ending the glorification of Confederate generals, and slave owner politicians such as Thomas Jefferson why would we continue to glorify the life of pirates? We as a community can do better!
You know who else burned books and made propaganda the nazis these two just want the people you want to start crap when it didnt matter before til someone said to care how dumb are people
Michael Cocchiola says
And so the path to book burning progresses… unless good people stand up and stop the madness. School board members Woolbright and McDonald are right-wing culture warriors determined to exorcise their own personal demons from public education. They are doing their god’s work to bring Christian purity into our secular society, whether we want it or not.
Thank you Deirdre truly excellent points. As usual, I certainly agree with Michael Cocchiola’s perspective, as well.
Why are members of our school board not much more focused on keeping students completely “unarmed” and safe? Why. . . because McDonald and Woolbright are religious fanatics and right winged extremists who are likely just fine with everyone being armed to the teeth.
They both must be removed from the school board . . . VOTE! VOTE! VOTE!
Vote for “Freedom” from fear and hate! Vote for “Freedom” from Gun Violence, Racism, Homophobia, Chauvinism, Bigotry, Sexism, Xenophobia! Vote for Ethics, Integrity, Honesty, Compassion, Equality. . . VOTE Democratic/”Moderate” Republican.
The dude says
No school bus this morning.
No fucking school bus.
At Palm Harbor in the c section… at all… no phone call, no bus, nada…
The moms huddled together and got a plan together real quick that kept some of them from being egregiously late for work..
But NO FUCKING BUS.
Yet this is what our “School Board” fights for… book burning.