Parent Group Pressures Florida School District to Ban Four Books

Beloved Toni MorrisonA parents’ group in Collier County, Florida is taking aim at four books in school libraries that they describe as “highly inappropriate [and] essentially pornographic.” Members of the organization known as Parents ROCK want Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Beloved, Cristina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban, and Lois Duncan’s Killing Mr. Griffin removed from school libraries, but instead of filing challenges as outlined in district policy, so far they have made their feelings known mostly via social media and local TV news reports.

Parents ROCK president David Bolduc admits that he has not read the books in their entirety, but told WINK News that they contain “graphic and sexual content, graphic violence, violence with women both physically and verbally, bestiality.” Competing station NBC 2 reports that the books are “found in the district’s middle and high school libraries,” but in fact Collier County Public Schools’ district-wide library catalog shows that Dreaming in Cuban is only in high schools. The Bluest Eye and Beloved each have a single copy in a middle school library, but the overwhelming majority–31 and nine copies respectively–are found in high schools. Only Killing Mr. Griffin, which the publisher recommends for seventh grade and up, has a significant presence in middle schools: nine copies, plus three more at the PK-12 campus of Everglades City School. Nine copies of Killing Mr. Griffin are also found in high school libraries.

Bolduc told NBC 2 that topics such as racism, incest, and child molestation that are addressed in The Bluest Eye are “18-plus.” In fact, child molestation is nothing of the sort by its very definition–and sadly real-life children are not spared from racism, incest, or other difficult and traumatizing experiences either. Time and time again, current and former children have testified to the positive impact of books that reflected their own negative experiences and helped them begin to heal.

Encouragingly, district spokesman Greg Turchetta has calmly responded to Parents ROCK’s hyperbole, pointing out that the library materials selection policy and a challenge form are both publicly available to anyone:

[Filing challenges to books] needs to be done through the process and the process is clear. If we didn’t have a procedure to address this, then I would understand that frustration but we do and any parent is free to come through that process.

The district also posted to its website a letter sent by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom in support of keeping the books in school libraries. At a school board meeting last night, however, three board members apparently instructed the district to remove the letter, according to Naples Daily News reporter Melhor Leonor on Twitter. (The direct link to the letter was still working this morning, but as of this writing the entire district website seems to have crashed.)

When asked what would satisfy Parents ROCK in the case of these four books, Bolduc told WINK that would be “when the district finally establishes a dialogue with us parents saying, here’s the process that we went through in selecting these books and we want to know why they made it through that process.” As pointed out above, that process has always been publicly available. If the group truly wants further dialogue about the books rather than sniping via the media, perhaps it should avail itself of the challenge policy set up for that purpose–after reading all four in their entirety, as required when filing a challenge.

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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.