Collier County School Board Voters Reject Censorship Agenda

Beloved Toni MorrisonTwo school board candidates in Collier County, Florida who supported an effort to ban four books from high school libraries last year have been defeated at the polls by two other candidates who favor intellectual freedom. The overall board is expected to maintain a 3-2 anti-censorship majority as new members Erick Carter and Stephanie Lucarelli replace term-limited predecessors who shared their views.

Defeated candidates Louise Penta and Lee Dixon both supported a local group called Parents ROCK, which last year waged a media crusade against Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Beloved, Cristina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban, and Lois Duncan’s Killing Mr. Griffin in school libraries. In fact, Dixon was the vice president of the group, which characterized the books as “highly inappropriate [and] essentially pornographic.”

That particular campaign failed when Collier County Public Schools officials invited Parents ROCK to submit their complaints according to the district’s established challenge policy rather than through local media, but the group then managed to get legislation introduced in the Florida statehouse which would have allowed any taxpayer — not just parents of enrolled students — to challenge instructional materials used in local school districts. Additionally, whereas existing law says that school boards make the final decision on such challenges, the new bills give taxpayers the right to appeal the board’s decision to a district court. Ultimately the two identical bills in the House and Senate were allowed to expire at the end of the 2016 legislative term.

Penta and Dixon were hoping to build a school board majority aligned with the views of Parents ROCK, which was founded by current board member Erika Donalds before she was elected in 2014. Apart from its advocacy of library censorship, the group also opposes the Common Core State Standards and nondiscriminatory restroom policies for transgender students. The election had turned ugly, with an assistant principal at a charter school run by yet another school board member referring to Carter and Lucarelli as “human fecal matter” who are “all about giving child rapists access to your kids.”

The election results had the Naples Daily News breathing a sigh of relief in an editorial last week, hoping for “a fresh commitment to civil, not uncivil, service.” Congrats to Carter, Lucarelli, and the citizens of Collier County who stood up to would-be censors!

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