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Polk County's book review is almost complete and still drawing complaints

Woman wearing glasses stands at a microphone with a piece of paper in her hand. A tableful of people sit behind her; a crowd of people in chairs is behind them.
Polk County Public Schools
Review committee member, Kathy Bucklew, told members she disagrees with almost every recommendation.

So far, two review committees have voted to keep 15 of the contested books in libraries.

Earlier this year, Polk County Public Schools drew national attention for pulling 16 library books from shelves.

The move came after a local group with national ties, County Citizens Defending Freedom, said the books violated Florida laws prohibiting the distribution of harmful materials to minors.

Committees were tasked with reviewing the materials, but now, some people are questioning their decisions.

The review committees were chosen by district administration and are made up of 34 adults, including parents and community members, and 15 high school juniors and seniors, WUSF previously reported.

So far, two review committees have voted to keep 15 of the books in libraries — designating them either for use by middle school, high school or all students. They have yet to review the sixteenth book.

Polk County Public Schools Superintendent Frederick Heid has agreed with 12 of those recommendations. He has yet to issue a recommendation on three of the books.

At last week's school board meeting, some community members repeated their concerns that the books aren't appropriate for children.

Read more about the ongoing debate over removing books in schools in Florida and nationwide.

Review committee member, Kathy Bucklew, told members she disagrees with almost every recommendation.

"We don't need to be hypersexualizing our little children," she said. "That's abuse. Let's prevent child abuse in our schools, even if it's at the hands of library books masquerading as literary masterpieces."

Heid will bring his final recommendations to the school board later this month.

At a workshop before last week's meeting, board attorney Wes Bridges said that board members are not required to vote on the issue, but they still might have to.

"It goes without saying, that no matter what the decision, or the recommendation of the committee is, or what the recommendation of the superintendent might be, it's likely that there are going to be people unhappy with that result."

If a board member moves to override Heid's decision on a book, they will need three others to agree to force a full board vote.

The titles have been checked out a combined 115 times across 48 schools since the 2020-2021 school year began, with some of the books not checked out at all during that time.

The list of books under the district’s review:

  • Two Boys Kissing 
  • Beloved
  • The Kite Runner 
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close 
  • Thirteen Reasons Why
  • The Vincent Boys
  • Real Live Boyfriends 
  • It’s Perfectly Normal
  • George 
  • I am Jazz
  • Drama
  • More Happy Than Not
  • Nineteen Minutes
  • The Bluest Eye
  • Tricks
  • Almost Perfect
Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.
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