The Hernando County School Board held Regular Meetings on October 24 and November 14, 2023. At this pair of forums, the board voted on whether to remove or keep eight different pieces of literature from school libraries. A topic that led to much impassioned debate, speakers came forward to voice their concerns and the board was occasionally split when casting their votes.
During the October hearing, the Superintendent’s recommendation to remove “It’s So Amazing,” written by Robie H. Harris, was unanimously approved, leading to the removal of the book from circulation from Hernando County schools. This was after Eastside Elementary School’s Review Committee met twice in September to discuss a citizen’s request for school reconsideration of the work. Following the pair of meetings, the committee voted 7-0 to recommend to the Superintendent that the book be removed from the county’s schools.
Central High School’s Review Committee convened on Sept. 22 and Oct. 2, 2023, regarding a citizen’s request about Stephen Chbosky’s “Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Their committee voted 4-1 to recommend its removal from Hernando County schools as well. The school board agreed with the committee and voted 5-0 for its removal at the Oct. 24 meeting.
Board Member Mark Johnson asked why it was brought up twice, and this was due to multiple schools challenging the book’s presence at their schools. Moving forward, Superintendent John Stratton stated that if a book receives challenges from multiple schools, all will be addressed as one agenda item. That should help reduce redundancy, considering that if the board approves the removal due to one challenge, that decision removes the book from all Hernando County schools and makes the extra challenges moot.
The first vote regarding book removals during the school board’s Nov. 14 meeting was “Thirteen Reasons Why,” written by Jay Asher. The decision passed unanimously by a vote of 5-0 to remove the work from the county’s schools. It was a rather quick agenda item, as no speakers elected to come forward to add their comments on the matter. The board then moved on to the next item, which was “And Tango Makes Three,” written by Justin Richardson.
Before the board voted on whether to keep Richardson’s work in the county’s schools, a pair of citizens came forward to speak on the book. They urged the five members to retain the work. Elizabeth Marion, from Weeki Wachee, emphasized that the book is not focused on gender and is simply a true story about two penguins in the Central Park Zoo “whereby, in nature, male penguins hatch the eggs.” She continued that it has been at their library “for many years,” and the story “deserves to stay there for our students.” The board ultimately elected to keep the book in schools by a 3-2 vote, with Board Members Johnson and Shannon Rodriguez dissenting.
Following the Superintendent’s recommendation, the school board also voted on the removal of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” by Margaret Atwood, from Hernando County schools. Rodriguez led a short conversation about the importance of “taking the conversation [of sexualities] off of teachers” and letting “parents parent.” As a result, she voted alongside Johnson and Susan Duval to remove the book after some initial confusion.
“Julian is a Mermaid,” written by Jessica Love, also saw some discussion as a pair of speakers came forward to defend keeping the book. Elizabeth Marion was again one of those on the defense as she called the story “a loving tale of an abuela, her grandson, and her supporting him in” an annual Coney Island mermaid festival. Afterward, Board Members Johnson and Rodriguez led a discussion against keeping Love’s work. Johnson insisted that the book is “about fluid gender identity, which violates the spirit of state law, and it should not be in the school system for that reason.” The board voted to retain the book in Hernando County schools by a vote of 3-2, with Johnson and Rodriguez casting the dissenting votes.
“The Family Book,” by Todd Parr, saw two individuals come forward to defend it as the last work, and Johnson and Rodriguez voted against the book for similar reasons as the last vote as well. Despite this, the school board voted as the superintendent recommended and decided to keep the book in circulation in the county’s schools by a vote of 3-2.
The final piece of literature voted on by the board was Gayle E. Pitman’s “This Day in June.” After lengthy deliberation by Board Member Duval, she voted along with the rest of the members to remove Pitman’s work. This decision, which was again in line with the committee’s recommendation, resulted in the removal of the last of five books between these two meetings. There were four criteria the committee observed when analyzing these books before making a recommendation:
Is it pornographic?
Does it depict or describe sexual conduct?
Is it suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend those materials presented?
Is it inappropriate for the grade level and age group for which the material is used?
Towards the end of the voting on the removal of literature, Superintendent Stratton spoke briefly about the difficulty of these votes, stating, “I know these are not easy decisions no matter which way you feel on this.” Afterward, the above guidelines were read aloud to confirm that they were compliant with state law. The school board’s next meeting will be held on Nov. 27 to hold a Student Expulsion Appeal Hearing. Anyone wishing to hear the minutia of the meetings can find the videos on the Hernando School District website.