Pasco braces for book challenges with ideas for new school library rules

The challenges are “coming soon to a school district near you,” a School Board member says.
Pasco County school officials, pictured in a 2019 School Board meeting, are considering new rules to address parent complaints about books in media centers.
Pasco County school officials, pictured in a 2019 School Board meeting, are considering new rules to address parent complaints about books in media centers. [ JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times (2019) ]
Published May 23, 2022

LAND O’LAKES — Unlike many other school districts in Florida, Pasco County has not faced an influx of challenges to the books on its shelves.

That hasn’t stopped district officials from looking for ways to limit the potential fallout that a book battle might create.

A team of educators has scoured the shelves to locate titles that have generated controversy in other counties, in order to have a full accounting of everything in the collection, superintendent Kurt Browning said. But they’re not pulling materials out of circulation, he added.

He wants to keep it that way.

“I don’t want this district to be in the book banning business,” Browning said in an interview.

Related: Book challenge policy gets Pasco County School Board talking

At the same time, he said he fully supports the right of parents to make choices about what their children read — but not by interfering with the rights of others.

“For every parent you have that wants a book banned, you have another who says they don’t,” he said. “I struggle with having a group of parents ... where they’re going to dictate what my child or your child has access to.”

To that end, the district leadership team has begun reviewing ways to allow parents to register electronically whether their children must have specific permission to access library books, or if they are allowed to take what they want. A notification would come up when children provide their student number for checking out the materials.

The idea is related to one that has surfaced in Flagler and Polk counties, which have faced significant book challenges. They have worked on procedures that tag certain books as requiring parent consent.

Related: DeSantis signs bill on book selection rules, school board term limits

“We’re trying to make it as seamless as possible,” Browning said. “We’re trying to get it set up for next school year.”

School Board members offered cautious support for the idea.

“The state says we have to have a searchable database for books. If we have that, a parent could go in and check off the ones they don’t want their child to check out,” said board member Colleen Beaudoin. “I think that would be a reasonable way to handle that.”

Board vice chairperson Megan Harding withheld judgment on the concept but raised initial concerns about any process that requires parents to opt into any type of service. The district needs to ensure students whose parents do not respond can have access to books, Harding said.

The district also must be cognizant of employee time, added board member Alison Crumbley.

“It does make sense if there is something they can come up with, as long as it doesn’t create more work for our staff,” Crumbley said.

Some sort of process is needed, though, she added, noting new Florida law makes it easier for residents to challenge school books.

“I do see it coming,” Crumbley said. “I’ve seen it in Flagler. Coming soon to a school district near you. It’s going to happen.”

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