Let’s talk about books.
There have been plenty of articles in the Tampa Bay Times and plenty of talk online and in bookstores about banning books in Pinellas County and across Florida. I believe that much of it lacks context, exaggerates or is flat wrong, though understandably strikes fear. As a member of the Pinellas County School Board and parent of two in our schools, I want to share some perspective and basic facts.
Pinellas schools are led by professionals and school board members committed to thoughtful, consistent policies that yield excellence for all students. We must remain focused on that commitment, and we need you to remain focused as well.
K-12 students should have full access to high-quality, age-appropriate contemporary and classic literature that creates a love of reading, provides knowledge and inspires curiosity about the world around us. The review, analysis and recommendation of which books meet those criteria should be performed by our licensed, trained teachers and library media specialists. That is the way we do it in Pinellas County.
Our school district recently reviewed and rated five books as adult reading, removing them from K-12 circulation. This decision was made by a committee of licensed library media specialists who love literature and love children. We followed publicly available policies and procedures that are not new. The Tampa Bay Times and the social media vortex suggest that we acted preemptively and that formal processes were not followed. That is simply not true, and it feeds the beast of the manufactured culture war.
Our school district’s approach is well-balanced with consistent, reasonable policies implemented by professionals. We respect parents, always have, and we have parental permission and opt-out policies. Even with those policies, 99.8% of our students maintain full access to libraries and materials.
The bottom line: Our students and their parents trust our schools to make the right decisions about books. So do I, and so can you.
The focus on book bans or ideological teaching at the state level is a red herring and has caused great division and fear where it need not be. It diverts our attention while resources that could move Florida forward are being diverted. Demonizing teachers and public schools distracts from the real work at hand. It damages our education system, our economic future and our national security.
If we want strong public schools, we need strong leadership from lawmakers, parents and the entire community. To move Florida forward, we need a renewed commitment to high-quality public education.
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As a parent, I know we have a real problem regarding access to inappropriate materials by our children — and we should do something about it. But that real problem is not books in our schools; it’s digitally accessible content.
My mom was worried about Madonna; her mom was worried about Elvis. They could change the radio dial. Now I’m a mom, and the allure of digital engagement is an everyday challenge. Let’s identify the actual sources of harm to youth caused by inappropriate materials, and let’s require guardrails from those product developers. A sliver of the tech budget and innovation could provide a universal parental control that would have a truly positive impact.
Our schools need you. Your neighbors, our state and our country need you. Engage. Attend. Volunteer. Mentor. Coach. That, dear friends, makes you a part of this most essential project and makes a real difference. United, we stand.
Laura Hine is a member of the Pinellas County School Board.