Karissa Jackson and Kaylee Briggs are among the more outspoken student board members who have served on the Flagler County School Board. They have no vote, but their voice represents between them over 3,500 students at Matanzas (Jackson) and Flagler Palm Coast High School (Briggs). at the end of a five-hour School Board meeting last Tuesday, both addressed the attempt by some school board members to remove books from school library shelves.
That School Board meeting included three hours of comments from the public and nearly an hour of comments from board members about the controversy precipitated by School Board member Jill Woolbright and seconded by Board member Janet McDonald. Woolbright, circumventing the book-challenge policy, demanded in an early-Novcember meeting with the superintendent and the board attorney that four books be pulled from school library shelves and either banned outright or “looked at.” She also demanded that all young adult books be “looked at” in a subsequent criminal complaint she filed against the superintendent and attorney. District procedure requires a book challenge to start at the school level and to be formally filed in writing.
In a further end-run around district procedures, both Woolbright and McDonald, without evidence, called certain titles on library shelves a “crime” to be disseminating (the title they focused on was George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue). Woolbright wanted those who had circulated the book to be “held accountable.” The Sheriff’s Office’s inquiry dismissed Woolbright’s allegation of a crime.
By the time Jackson and Briggs spoke, most of the chamber had emptied of what had been a capacity crowd that at one point included some 100 people who could not be accommodated inside. (Tuesday’s school board meeting took place after and during a student demonstration in which extremists hurled obscenities at the student demonstrators.) Both student board members spoke of matters relating to their respective schools, then addressed the matters that had occupied the majority of the meeting’s attention–the book bans and the district’s potential removal of the word “equity” from its goals’ language. Those portions of their statements follow in the order in which they delivered them.
By Karissa Jackson
I do think that achieving equity in our schools should always be a priority for Flagler County. We need to recognize that there are certain disadvantages that every student faces. We need to make sure that we provide the additional support and tailor our education system to meet the needs of every student.
And in terms of the books: the school board does have a duty to ensure that the books in our schools’ libraries are age appropriate, but also has an equally valuable responsibility to provide books in our schools that are representative of all students. So I think that if we are to look at whether a certain book is appropriate, you have to do that for all different types of books, not just for All Boys Aren’t Blue.
And I think that the fact that so many students came out tonight to speak in support of All Boys Aren’t Blue and other books like The Hate You Give, Speak, shows how much students need representation in the novels that our libraries provide. So I think that is a sign to let the School Board know that we need to focus more on providing more books that have representation for our students. Because if the ones that are available aren’t appropriate, we need to provide more books that are, that our students can relate to, because we need these characters to help us navigate through these difficult times.
The world is so divided right now and having those characters to lean upon is so important. So I think we do need more books that provide that representation.
By Kaylee Briggs
I’m super proud of all the student opinion we heard today. Yet again, I want to encourage these students to contact their Board Representatives be they Karissa or I, so that they can participate in the teen town hall. I want to align myself with the beliefs mentioned regarding the books in our high schools and the use of “equity,” the beliefs which were mentioned by students who came and talked, and Karissa just now.
I do wonder if these same policies will be extended to authors that aren’t contemporary. I know one of the speakers mentioned The Color Purple. That’s something that came to mind for me. I don’t know that the impact is different upon a student based upon the time period that an author’s writing in. So I wonder how legislatively and policy-wise we’ll be able to differentiate these books that will be allowed and not allowed.
As a little bit of a closing note, I want to mention that in my pretty brief experience with most of these board members, I can attest to the fact that they are not villains, but that they are experienced in education and care deeply about the well being of students, although they may go about resolving certain issues or student needs differently.
This being said I denounce their slander, and I promote a thoughtful and logical discussion regarding school issues, a discussion which recognizes biases and maintains a search for the truth. There are many valid concerns regarding the conduct and opinions of the board. However, I encouraged parents and students to work harmoniously with the School Board in pursuit of the best learning environment for students.