TAMPA, FLORIDA — Children attending elementary and middle schools in Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) have access to dozens of different transgender-focused books, including some that discuss the process of transitioning. Many of the books are currently checked out.
On Tuesday, The Florida Standard published a story that detailed a book in Pierce Middle School called This Book is Gay that features instructions on anal sex and hookup apps, among other obscene topics.
Some of the book titles currently available at libraries in HCPS elementary and middle schools include Transphobia: Deal with It and Be a Gender Transcender, Understanding Gender (part of the Social Justice Handbook series written by the Juno Dawson, author of This Book is Gay), The Fighting Infantryman: The Story of Albert D. J. Cashier, Transgender Civil War Soldier and Identity: A Story of Transitioning. HCPS is the third largest public-school district in the state and seventh largest in the nation, with more than 300 schools and 218,000 students.
LIBRARIAN “OBSESSED” WITH TRANSITIONING BOOK
Barrington Middle School’s official website promotes the TikTok page of the school’s librarian, Kathleen Daniels, who offered a hearty endorsement of Identity: A Story of Transitioning. Daniels gave it a five-star rating, noting that the book “includes resources around transitioning.”
“I am obsessed with it,” Daniels said in the video. “Not only is the storyline awesome and the graphics wonderfully done, but I love that they have About the Author in the back.”
PROMOTING “RELEVANCE” – NOT AGE-BASED RESTRICTIONS
In another video, Daniels nods her approval for the concept of removing age-based restrictions from books altogether in favor of “relevance.” The split-screen video features two other school librarians on TikTok, who have decided that using the term “age-appropriate” is no longer appropriate for labeling books.
After one female librarian says she will now use the term “age-relevant” instead of “age-appropriate,” and calls on her fellow librarians to do the same, a male librarian suggests there should be no age restrictions at all.
“I want to posit that I would actually take it even further,” he said. “Take age out of it whatsoever. Relevant is the only issue. Because even the use of the term age means that there is a milestone, something that is there to where these books are now ready for certain readers.”
Throughout the video, Daniels can be seen smiling, nodding in agreement and giving thumbs up to the librarians’ claims.
LIBRARIES NOT PART OF PARENTAL RIGHTS LAW
Any parents expecting the new Parental Rights in Education (PIE) law to remove these books from school libraries are likely to be disappointed.
According to Governor DeSantis’ formal announcement, the law “prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through 3rd grade and prohibits instruction that is not age appropriate for students.” It also requires school districts to keep parents in the loop if there is a “change in services from the school regarding a child’s mental, emotional or physical health or well-being.”
However, given that most library books are not part of any formal curriculum, the librarians at HCPS remain free to continue adding more transgender books at their respective schools and encouraging students to read them.
BOOK CHALLENGE PROCESS
Although PIE is focused on classroom instruction, the state also passed HB 1467 during the 2022 legislative session, which requires “curriculum transparency.” Currently, school districts have procedures to review library materials that parents object to for inappropriate content. Beginning next summer, the law will require school districts to submit a list to the department of every book that was challenged and the outcome of the challenge, according to the governor’s press secretary Bryan Griffin. The Department of Education will send a list to all districts of any book that was discontinued.
Removing books from HCPS libraries requires substantial effort, commitment and patience. Getting just a few books taken off the shelf at a single school library could take several months, and would have to be duplicated at other schools that have the same book in order to remove it from HCPS elementary or middle schools altogether.
The book challenge process listed on the HCPS website states that the process can take longer than 30 days and must be limited to one book at a time and one school at a time. During the challenge process, the challenged book remains in circulation until a final decision is reached by the Educational Media Materials Committee. Complainants cannot have more than one challenge processed at the same time. Additionally, if there are multiple requests at the same school site, the committee is given a 10-day working break between sessions.
HCPS spokesperson Erin Maloney provided the following response to The Florida Standard’s questions:
We are a large and diverse community, and the content within our libraries will align with statutory requirements while at the same time reflecting the needs of our community.
When our district orders books for campus libraries, we utilize reputable distributors in the K-12 space who are familiar with the types of materials that are popular and appropriate for a diverse student body.
HCPS is following all state laws to ensure that parents have the choice to work with their librarian, so their child has access to books that are in alignment with their family’s needs.
We recognize that while one book might be ideal for one student, it may not be appropriate in the eyes of another family. This is why it is important for our district to provide a process in which anyone can challenge a book in a school library for review.
We trust in this process and convene review committees on the school level who can examine the merits of any book that is challenged so that each school has the choice to remove a book that may be deemed inappropriate for their school community.
Regardless of whether a book is removed or not following committee review, every parent has the right and opportunity to speak with their child’s media specialist to request the types of books their child is allowed to have access to in the media center.