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Hernando County School Board Meeting Results in Removal of 19 Books from School Libraries

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On May 7, 2024, the Hernando County School Board convened a special meeting to address a total of 23 challenges filed against 20 district library books by Julia Thomas, a member of Moms for Liberty. While such meetings usually take place in the evening, this one was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. to keep from “running late into the evening,” according to district officials.

The books challenged had already undergone scrutiny by a Review Committee composed of school staff, community members, and parents, as per district procedure. The May 7 meeting agenda allowed for public comment before a final ruling by the School Board on whether to keep or remove the books from the school libraries.

Proponents of removing the books, such as Moms For Liberty Vice-Chair Monty Floyd and local pastor Jack Martin reminded the School Board members of the community moral values that they were responsible for safeguarding. Critics of the book removals, including parents like Kim Mulrooney, argue that such decisions limit access to diverse perspectives and educational content, particularly for families who may not have the means to visit public libraries regularly.

Public interest ran high, as other citizens on both sides of the issue lined up to speak, with public comments received on every book on the agenda. The entire meeting stretched to nearly five hours.

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The meeting also saw significant, sometimes contentious, discussions among board members. Shannon Rodriguez was vocal about her stance, describing the content of the challenged books as “pornographic.” Rodriguez also expressed her concerns that the Book Review Committees were “stacked” with some local school staff using the title of “parent” as committee members. Superintendent John Stratton raised questions about how the board defined pornography and emphasized the board’s role in interpreting state law criteria for book removals.

Various book review committees at Hernando County schools had recommended retaining 13 of the challenged books in school libraries. However, the final decision rested with the School Board, which ultimately voted to remove 19 of the 20 titles being considered at all school levels. The only book retained was “Spinning” by Tillie Walden, kept by a narrow 3-2 vote.

Julia Thomas, who filed the challenges, expressed satisfaction with the board’s decisions, describing the outcome as a “very big win” for Moms for Liberty. Responding to criticisms that Moms For Liberty is “banning books,” the organization emphasizes that they are simply removing age-inappropriate material from school libraries and classrooms, not “banning books.”

Examples of materials provided by Moms For Liberty in supporting the local challenges would certainly seem to support their assertations, as many of the books contested by the group are clearly marked as “Adult 18+” material in publisher descriptions.

At least five of the books contested at the May 7 meeting were authored by Sarah Maas. PEN America, a writers’ advocacy group, listed Sarah Maas’ books among the “most banned in US schools” for the 2022-23 academic year, with 16 titles banned across 45 school districts.

Here is a summary of the books challenged, the school(s) involved, reasons for the challenge, and the final dispositions:

“Damsel” by Elana Arnold – Hernando High School – Explicit sexual activities, sexual battery, sexual nudity, and infrequent profanity – Review Committee voted 5-0 to remove, School Board voted to remove.

“Felix Ever After” by Kacen Callender – Hernando High School – Book contains sexual activities, sexual nudity, drug use, profanity, and alternate gender ideologies – Review Committee voted 3-2 to remove, School Board voted to remove.

“House of Earth and Blood” by Sarah J. Maas – obscene/explicit sexual activities and sexual nudity, frequent/excessive profanity, graphic violence, alcohol and drug use. – Central High School -Review Committee voted 4-1 to Remove, School Board voted to remove.

“Home Going” by Yaa Gyasi – Hernando High School – Sexual activities, sexual assault, and nudity. Review Committee voted 5-1 to remove, School Board voted to remove.

“Red Hood” by Elana K. Arnold – Hernando High School – Obscene sexual activities, violence, and profanity. Review Committee voted 5-0 to remove, School Board voted to remove.

“Beautiful” by Amy Reed – Central High School – Centered around a 13 year old girl, book contains sexual activities, sexual nudity, drug abuse by minors, alcohol use by minors, excessive/frequent profanity, and self-harm including anorexia. – Review Committee voted 4-1 to remove, School Board voted to remove.

“Boy Toy” by Barry Lyga -Weeki Wachee High School – Explicit sexual activities including a minor with an adult, sexual nudity, and excessive/frequent profanity. – Review Committee voted 4-2 to remove, School Board voted to remove.

“Man O’ War” by Cory McCarthy – Obscene sexual activities, sexual nudity, alternate gender ideologies, alternate sexualities, profanity/derogatory terms, references to hate involving homophobia and racism, controversial social and historical commentary, and alcohol use. – Hernando High School – Review Committee voted 5-1 to remove. School Board voted to remove.

“Cemetery Boys” by Aiden Thomas – Hernando High School – References to sexuality, alternate gender ideologies, violence, and profanity. – The Review Committee voted to retain the book, 5-0. The School Board voted to remove it.

“Forever” by Judy Blume – Nature Coast technical – Sexually explicit excerpts involving minors. Review Committee voted to retain the book 5-2. The School Board voted to remove it.

“Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult – Springstead High School – Sexual activities, sexual nudity, profanity, derogatory terms, violence, controversial social and political commentary, controversial religious commentary, alternate sexualities, hate, abortion, and suicide commentary. Review Committee voted to keep the book 7-0, the School Board voted to remove the book.

“Kingdom of Ash” by Sarah J. Maas – Central HS- Violence, mild profanity, and explicit sexual activities, sexual nudity. Review Committee voted 4-1 to keep the book, School Board voted to remove it.

“Little and Lion” by Brandy Colbert – Hernando High School- explicit sexual activities, alternate sexualities, and profanity/derogatory term. The Review Committee voted to retain the book 4-1, the School Board voted to remove it.

“A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J. Maas – Central High school- graphic violence, explicit sexual nudity, obscene sexual activities, and mild profanity. The Review Committee voted 5-0 to keep the book. The School Board voted to remove it.

“Opposite of Innocent” by Sonya Sones – Hernando High School – Book contains sexual activities. -The Review Committee voted 4-2 to keep the book, the School Board voted to remove it.

“Chosen” by P.C. Cast and Kristen Cast – Nature Coast Technical- Book contains sexual activities and nudity. The Review Committee voted 4-3 to keep this book. The School Board voted to remove it.

“Life Is Funny” by E.R. Frank – Challenged at Nature Coast technical and Challenger K-8 – book contains sexual activities, bestiality commentary, profanity and derogatory terms. Nature Coast Technical – Review Committee voted 6-1 to keep the book. Challenger K-8-Review Committee voted 7-0 to limit access to 8th grade. The School Board voted to remove the book from both campuses.

“Queen of Shadows” by Sarah J. Maas – challenged at Weeki-Wachee HS, Central HS, DS Parrott Middle School, and Challenger K-8 – Book contains explicit sexual nudity, sexual activities, violence, and profanity. High School Review Committee voted 4-1 to keep the book, Middle School Review Committee voted 5-0 to keep it. The School Board Voted to remove it from both schools.

“Tower of Dawn” by Sarah J. Maas – Challenged at Central HS, Challenger K-8. The book contains sexual activities, sexual nudity, mild profanity, and explicit violence. The Central HS Review Committee voted 3-2 to retain the book. The Challenger K-8 Review Committee voted 6-0 to retain it, with limited access to 8th grade only. The School Board voted to remove the book from both campuses.

“Spinning” by Tillie Walden – Hernando High School -contains nudity, alternate sexualities, hate commentary involving homophobia, violence involving attempting sexual assault, and profanity. The Review Committee voted 5-0 to keep it, the School Board voted 3-2 to retain the book.

Meetings such as this one highlight a nationwide trend influenced by conservative groups pushing back against what they see as inappropriate content in school libraries.

Anthony Avila, a community organizer for Equality Florida, addresses the board regarding “anti-literacy book banning.” He said the books in question do not meet the definition of pornography. Photo: Hernando County Schools Video
Anthony Avila, a community organizer for Equality Florida, addresses the board regarding “anti-literacy book banning.” He said the books in question do not meet the definition of pornography.
Photo: Hernando County Schools Video
Pastor Jack Martin advocates for the removal of “Kingdom of Ash” by Sarah Maas regarding the way the book deals with suicide. Photo: Hernando County Schools Video
Pastor Jack Martin advocates for the removal of “Kingdom of Ash” by Sarah Maas regarding the
way the book deals with suicide.
Photo: Hernando County Schools Video

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