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Pasco’s first formal book challenge targets title geared to LGBTQ+ youth

A parent has asked for the removal of “The Letter Q,” a series of essays.
 
Pasco County parent Rebecca Yuengling, shown at a school board meeting in 2022, has challenged the book "The Letter Q" as inappropriate for schools.
Pasco County parent Rebecca Yuengling, shown at a school board meeting in 2022, has challenged the book "The Letter Q" as inappropriate for schools. [ JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times ]
Published Feb. 6|Updated Feb. 6

While Florida school book challenges reached all-time highs over the past year, the Pasco County school district heard some complaints but received no formal objections.

Until now.

Parent Rebecca Yuengling, who has fought the school district on issues such as pronouns and safe space stickers, has asked for the removal of “The Letter Q,” a book of essays aimed at supporting LGBTQ+ youth as they seek to find their identity. She objected to mentions of sexual conduct within the book, in addition to references to the Trevor Project, which aims to prevent suicide among LGBTQ+ youth.

"The Letter Q," edited by Sarah Moon, is being challenged in the Pasco County school district.
"The Letter Q," edited by Sarah Moon, is being challenged in the Pasco County school district. [ Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative ]

“Children should not be given a resource to contact a 3rd party, TrevorSpace, where they can talk to unknown adults about their sexuality,” Yuengling wrote in her challenge form.

The book has been removed from Gulf Middle School while it is under review. State law requires schools to pull books that have been challenged over sex content during the process.

Gulf Middle was the only Pasco school with a copy, according to the district, and it had never been checked out.

A committee met Monday to discuss procedures for determining the book’s fate at a public hearing, which is set for Feb. 26. The school board on Tuesday went over revisions to its book challenge policy, clarifying the differences between objecting to textbooks and raising complaints about library books.

The district faced a challenge in 2023 to its recommended textbook adoption for high school financial literacy. But although some parents, residents and past school board candidates have spoken about library books they found objectionable, none previously followed through.

Superintendent Kurt Browning repeatedly has said he had no intent to follow other districts’ lead in taking hundreds of books off the shelves preemptively.

“We’re not removing any dictionaries from our schools,” Browning said, referring to a recent Escambia County action. “That’s just not what we do.”

However, district media specialists continue to regularly look at books to determine whether they meet any criteria that could lead them to be relocated or removed, said Lea Mitchell, district director of Leading and Learning. Titles in other county challenges get attention, Mitchell said, though many of those have not been on Pasco shelves.

“The Letter Q” has not appeared in other challenge lists in Florida, and was not included on the website that Moms for Liberty members have used to find objections. It was on a widely shared list of about 850 books a Republican Texas lawmaker questioned, according to Education Week.

Mitchell said Pasco media specialists thoroughly examine all books requested for new purchase.

The district’s goal, she said, is to follow state law on book content while also respecting parent rights regarding the materials available in the schools. In addition to challenging books, parents may notify their children’s schools about any restrictions to book access they wish to have.

Because of the formal challenge, a committee will consider whether the book meets academic and social criteria, and has literary merit. It will make a recommendation to the Gulf Middle principal, who will make the final decision. Options include leaving the book in place, restricting it to certain grade levels, removing it completely, or any other proposal a committee member might come up with.

If Yuengling disagrees with the action, she can appeal to the superintendent for another hearing.

The process is unlike that in Pinellas County, which has done away with school-level reviews. Its decision on books applies districtwide, as was the case when a committee decided against pulling “The Lovely Bones” out of all middle and high schools.

School districts across the state have grappled with how to handle library books, as the Legislature and State Board of Education have changed requirements, often with language that has been left open to interpretation. Pasco has been among the more restrained districts when it comes to its consideration of books.