A 14-member district appeals committee voted unanimously this evening to recommend keeping Amy Reed’s The Nowhere Girls, a book deconstructing high school rape culture, on the shelves at Flagler Palm Coast High School and Matanzas High School. It’s now up to Superintendent Cathy Mittlestadt to ratify the decision or go against it and potentially ban the book.
This evening, the book’s fate was never in question from the moment committee members started their hour-long discussion. It only got praise and plaudits for addressing a serious, grave issue common to high school culture in a way teens can relate to–and do something about: the Nowhere Girls of the title are a group of three misfits who improbably start a movement that unravels their school’s and community’s misogynistic culture, where jocks are heroes who can do no wrong and girls are little more than their playthings. (See: “Challenged in Flagler Schools: Amy Reed’s The Nowhere Girls, a Review and Recommendation.”)
Shannon Rambow, one of the individuals who sought to ban the book and filed the challenge, told Lashakia Moore, the assistant superintendent who facilitated the panel discussion, that she was appealing the committee’s decision to the school board even before the meeting had started because. Rambow claimed to Moore that she knew what the result would be. In effect, Rambow has appealed the superintendent’s decision before it’s been made, making the appeal likely invalid, at least for now.
Rambow, who was at today’s appeals committee meeting, does not appear to respect the process, elaborate and costly though it’s been to address mostly hers and two other people’s challenges. She was heard calling last week’s district appeals committee meeting a “shit show” as she walked out of the room, a curious irony given her claim that she is challenging the books due to their vulgarity.Rambow has also appealed to the school board the superintendent’s decision to keep Patricia McCormick’s Sold on the shelves. (See: “Citing ‘Reason Above Prejudice,’ Superintendent Upholds Recommendation to Keep Sold on School Shelves.”)
The committee included faculty members–teachers, media specialists, administrators–and several residents, either parents with children in school or community members without school-age children. The district formed the committee intentionally to reflect as much of a diversity of points of view as possible. The individuals challenging the book were not eligible to serve.
The discussion was lively and always civil, reflecting broadly varied points of view, in contrast with the de-contextualized and shrill, politicized and always theatrical appearances by would-be book-banners before school boards as the movement to censor picked up momentum starting two years ago.
There were a few cautions about The Nowhere Girls.
“It needs content and trigger warnings, it does, even as a self-selected book,” an English teacher who is a member of the committee said.
“I would think that if someone were to check this out, the adult would have that kind of check in conversation,” a media specialist said. “We don’t check books out in the media center robotically. There is a human interaction every time check out.
But when it came to the book’s sexually suggestive content–there are a few such passages–the committee members were clear: prurience, or “arousal,” was not the intent. It could not be deemed pornographic or harmful to minors, and therefore did not meet state law’s criteria for banning.
The 14-0 vote extends a streak of more than half a dozen books that Flagler school committees at various levels have reviewed and opted to keep after the titles were challenged in the last few months.
Committees from each high school had unanimously voted to keep The Nowhere Girls on their shelves as a self-selection for students who wish to read it. The individuals who are challenging it appealed the school-level decision to the district committee. The three would-be banners in Flagler have filed at least 44 challenges to 22 titles since last summer, relying on a national website that caters to groups like “moms for liberty” to cut and paste their challenges from existing templates. The cut-and-pasting suggests that none of the challengers actually read any of the books they’re seeking to ban. On the other hand, sitting through the meeting likely gave them an analytical, easy-to-understand summary.
When Moore asked what the purpose of Reed’s novel was, the responses came quickly and sharply:”Empowering women to stand up for themselves and for each other.”
“When people band together they’re stronger and they make a difference.”
“I think the material exposes the failure of school, police, general public, so that a person who is going through a trauma like this may have friends and people who support them, but the general establishment does not support and is not open enough for a person to really come forward and feel that they’re being cared for.”
“It outrages me that we are still dealing with this and is actually even worse than it was before. And I think part of that is social media.”
“There is a bias toward a woman’s voice, a woman’s voice is simply not being heard.”
The plot of The Nowhere Girls hinges in large part on the consequences of a girl’s fate after she was gang-raped by the high school jocks: she was not believed, and was hounded out of the school and town.
Committee members did not dispute that the book could be difficult to read–not for its language, which is very accessible, but for the candor of its themes, the rawness of the violence and psychological traumas girls endure.
“It was not meant to be a comfortable read, and that is part of the power of the book,” a media specialist said. “I cringed many times but that’s because I recognize this in the history of the women I know, my students and yeah, it was uncomfortable,” but that was the power of the book.
The 2017 novel features a blog written by one of the three “offenders,” a former high school student who led the gang that raped girls for points. The blog is written in the most vulgar language, reflecting the character’s debased mindset. The media specialist said she’d read identical language in actual blogs.
“Reading those blog excerpts and stuff was really, really tough,” one of the men on the committee said. “Like how do you think that way? I have granddaughters. I have daughters. And I’m like, I know there’s guys out there that will do that, and that’s horrible.” The book, he said, would help with awareness.
“This book challenges those self perceived good guys to not just be not sexist, but to be anti sexist,” an English teacher at Matanzas High School said, “because there’s no such thing as not sexist. It shouldn’t be sexist or not sexist. it needs to be sexist or anti-sexist, otherwise you’re just a silent voice, and silence always helps the oppressor.”
The committee made Moore’s job easy: she almost literally only had to ask the necessary questions, fill in blanks, tally the votes and convey the results to Superintendent Cathy Mittlestadt, who will either to ratify the recommendation or go against it: it’s her decision.
Stop The Nonsense says
It is ridiculous that one person can object and prevent young women from reading a book that can help them. I would bet my entire savings the objector never read this book or any of the others they brazenly object. Does the objector even have kids? If she does, then she should be a parent and have a conversation with her child and decide with her child if said child should read this or not. If not then the objector should have no say.
I’m so sick of these people. Parent your own kid and leave mine alone. It’s creepy. Stop interjecting in my child’s life. You’re not saving my kid, you’re hindering her education. You want your child uneducated that’s your parental right but I want mine to educate herself and know as much as she can about the good, the bad, and the ugly. That’s my choice. Where is my parental right?
@ Stop … Bravo. Stop contributing to the dumbing down of our kids. A parent has the right to make decisions for minor children OF THEIR OWN, not an entire school system.
Sheila Zinkerman Citizens for Truth and Justice in Education says
Sacred time plundered from children, young adults in formative years—gone forever, due to a book challenger’s meritless reasons to remove the books most needed by students. There is no doubt they are putting students’ well-being in harm’s way, emotional abuse shrouded as parental rights. To them I say, sit down and shut up.
Allow learners and educators to be.
Sheila Z: This is the most important these pickle heads have ever been in their lives. Sad, actually.
Deborah Coffey says
One has to wonder just how miserable the lives of the book banners really are. Do they live in fear of everything? Are they afraid of truth? Do they feel completely powerless in our society and banning books makes them feel powerful? Are they just fundamentalists who want to force their beliefs on everyone else (but again, that would be a quest for power)? Are they stupid and uneducated? Have they even read all the books they want to ban? I think what Ron DeSantis and these book banners are doing is despicable, damaging to democracy, anti-intellectual, and educationally destructive.
@Deborah Coffey :
“Do they live in fear of everything?”
“Are they afraid of truth?”
“Do they feel completely powerless in our society and banning books makes them feel powerful? ”
“Are they just fundamentalists who want to force their beliefs on everyone else (but again, that would be a quest for power)? ”
“Are they stupid and uneducated? ”
Uhhh … Yes
Florida Voter says
Each library should have a special display near the entrance showcasing books that “Survived the Local Banhammer!” It might be appropriate to include a disclaimer regarding the topic of the book. This way the only thing that these challenges accomplish is that the books become more visible.
It could even be worthwhile to include the actual “challenge” and some of the evaluations of the books. Are these “public record?”
@moms for liberty
I know that stick up your ass makes you special. People are losing faith in a flat Earth orbited by the Sun — only you can save us.
Stop with this book ban crap started by a Governor that seems to discriminate against people of color, gay people and now this book banning.
Parents should be mature enough to know what they want their children to read, stop playing God with human beings that can make their own decisions as adults, we don’t need a Governor to rule with a iron fist of dicatorship.
Absolutely Ridiculous says
I applaud the committees who have so far voted to keep all the books on the shelf!
Just goes to show that the book banners are not the majority.
Nephew Of Uncle Sam says
So 3 people are wasting a whole bunch of others time and resources . Time to tell them to stop “cutting and pasting” their broad requests or go pound sand.
Impressed with this Committee says
Out of curiosity I attended the book review last evening. The book banners are definitely not the majority– only 3 ill-behaved women, one of whom frequently used some form of “fuck” during conversation with the other two– but they have the power, as that is how this particular process is designed. The Committee members from the community were women AND men– parents of middle school students, parents of adult children, and grandparents. After presenting their own compelling and important reasons as to why this book should be retained for grades 9 -12, the Committee voted unanimously to keep the book on shelves for grades 9 -12. The three women already appealled that vote, evidently as a matter of course, as they didn’t display “active listening skills” during the conversation. I was certainly unimpressed. I suggest that more of us in the majority attend these book review sessions regularly….. and read the books!
Impressed: Apparently, they don’t have “active reading skills” either, and they don’t want the kids to have active reading skills themselves.
James Mejuto says
What do I think:? Looking at the 14-member appeals committee meeting in Bunnell, I see no Latinos, no Asians, no Blacks,
only three white men, mostly white women and no students. It’s difficult to imagine this kind of a setup,
representative of any community.
Why there is no student input . . . I just don’t understand!
Impressed with this Committee says
This is only one of SIX District wide committees. I don’t know the make-up of the other District Committees. There was indeed a black woman community member on this particular Committee. Community members on this Committee are not hand-picked. Community members volunteer for these Committees. If you’re looking for wider representation of the community in this process, you won’t find it among the three book banners– they are all white women. As for students– it would be odd to have students on the committee since the point is to determine if they should be allowed to check it out from the school library in order to read it and they would have to read it to be on the Committee.
James Mejuto says
To ‘Impressed’: The make-up of previous committees is the same: No Blacks, one Latino, one white man, no Asians, all white women and no student representation.
No! It is not ‘odd’ having students evaluate these books along with the other members. Afterall, they are
the one’s reading those books and they should have impute in what is available, unless you feel they’re incapable of deciding what to read. Odd, students should have no say !
James M.: I agree with Impressed. If Blacks, Latinos, White men, and Asians are not on the committees, then they certainly should volunteer. Also, children would not be expected to “evaluate” (read) books that the Governor and his small group of minions believe is “pornography.”
Perhaps the would be ‘book banners’ should be required to provide proof that they have actually read the book they want banned.
Maybe a written book report with an appendix quoting the ‘offensive’ sections, itemized by page number, to be attached to their objection before it is accepted.
After all, a book ban demand based on innuendo is no different from a lawsuit without evidence
Both are frivolous time wasters.
Michael Cocchiola says
Some of us have formed the “Flagler Free To Read” group to take on the extremist Moms for Liberty (Lobotomy?) and their delusional attempt to keep students from learning about the struggles of their marginalized peers.
The MfL mad hatters wish only to stunt the intellectual growth of students, and then declare public schools ineffectual. You know, more money for private faith-based schools where students will be taught from the bible, unrestrained by rules, regulations, and oversight.
Contact me at [email protected] if you want to know more about the Flagler Free To Read movement..
The committee members are all educators and administrators, are they not? I think Members of this community, in an effort to gain a better understanding of all this, would like to know how the members of these committees are selected.
I am not in a position to dispute their decisions, only to understand who it is that is arriving at them.
Not all, no. This article explains the selection process that includes non-district or school employees, and this article details it, with a chart listing the membership of both committees that have met so far.
What Else Is New says
Please remember…. Those who burn or ban books are evil cowards.