Book ban overturned in Florida school district. Here’s why.

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state
Andrew Larsen, 17, a senior in the IB program at Palm Harbor University High School, clutches the Toni Morrison novel "The Bluest Eye" before the beginning of the Pinellas County School Board meeting, at 301 4th St. SW on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023 in Largo.
Andrew Larsen, 17, a senior in the IB program at Palm Harbor University High School, clutches the Toni Morrison novel "The Bluest Eye" before the beginning of the Pinellas County School Board meeting, at 301 4th St. SW on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023 in Largo. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published April 19, 2023|Updated April 19, 2023

The big story: A literary classic has survived censorship efforts in a Florida school district, as educators continue to feel their way through vague rules and laws aimed at removing materials deemed inappropriate for children.

A seven-person committee of Pinellas County media specialists needed nearly three hours to determine the fate of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” which the superintendent’s staff had banned from high schools in January after a parent complained about a graphic 2-page rape scene in its pages. The novel has been removed from other districts, and is among the most challenged books in the nation.

The group decided that when in a library, where students have the freedom to select or pass by any book, the novel should be available without restrictions for grades 9-12. It’s a tough read, they said, but one that teens have the ability to pick for themselves.

When part of a class assignment, it found that teachers should have to go through the district’s “controversial materials” policy. That includes review with the principal, consultation with parents and an offer of alternative readings. The rationale: It could be considered a requirement at that point, so providing options would make it clear students or parents could decline.

Some school board members were elated with the decision, saying it proves the district’s review policy works. Others didn’t agree, suggesting a need to further discuss the situation. Read more here.

Hot topics

School closures: After months spent talking about the need to close under-enrolled schools, the Hillsborough County School Board tentatively agreed to shutter one elementary that serves primarily low-income minority children. The vote was close, raising the question of how far the board is willing to go in consolidating schools to save money.

Superintendents: The Brevard County School Board named four finalists for its superintendent search, WKMG reports. • The Alachua County School Board hired the Florida School Boards Association to help look for a new superintendent, WCJB reports. The district has had an interim leader since early 2022.

School board politics: The Broward County School Board has referred an investigation into allegations against two of its members to the state ethics commission, the Miami Herald reports. • The Sarasota County School Board rejected a proposal to hire a consultant with ties to Hillsdale College, WUSF reports. • The Florida Senate is poised to vote on a measure to ask voters to consider a return to partisan school board elections, Florida Politics reports.

Race relations: Florida requires schools to teach Black history, but implementation is spotty without strong oversight, WTSP reports. • Two Miami-Dade County School Board members held a preliminary conversation about the district’s program for minority participation in procurement. Some observers raised concerns the members are trying to eliminate the program, WPLG reports.

Restrooms: The Florida House is poised to give final approval to a bill that would limit restroom use to peoples’ assigned sex at birth, Florida Politics reports. • The Duval County school district reversed its policy that had allowed students to use restrooms and locker rooms according to their gender identity, Jacksonville Today reports.

Classroom technology: A measure to require K-12 schools to block access to certain social media platforms and teach children about social media uses is on its way to the governor for consideration, Florida Politics reports.

Candy: Two Seminole County parents concerned about their children’s easy access to junk food in schools has led to a ban of candy and junk food sales during the school day, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Today in Tallahassee ... The State Board of Education meets in the Capitol at 9 a.m. Its agenda includes a rule that would limit instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation through 12th grade, the News Service of Florida reports. • The Senate Rules Committee is scheduled to meet at 8:30 a.m. for six hours to review dozens of bills. The full Senate has 13 bills on special order when it convenes at 4 p.m. • The House Education and Employment Committee has 10 bills up for consideration when it meets at 8 a.m. The full House is scheduled to convene at 1:30 p.m.

In higher education

Intellectual freedom: A federal judge dismissed a challenge to state law requiring state universities to conduct an annual survey on student and staff political views, saying the plaintiffs did not establish standing, the News Service of Florida reports.

Dreamers: A group of undocumented college students who have qualified for in-state tuition are lobbying Florida lawmakers to continue to protect Dreamers’ ability to afford higher education, Florida Phoenix reports.

Campus safety: The University of Florida removed eight years’ worth of campus crime data from its online resources, leaving minimal information available for the public, Fresh Take Florida reports.

Presidential searches: Candidates to lead Florida Gulf Coast University participated in forums with students and staff, WINK reports.

Don’t miss a story. Here’s a link to yesterday’s roundup.

Before you go ... Is there a cat owner who can’t relate?

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