TAMPA, FLORIDA — Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) has pulled dozens of books out of school libraries due to concerns of pornography, according to one local conservative group.
Citizens Defending Freedom (CDF) Hillsborough County claims HCPS Superintendent Addison Davis has informed them that a number of books have been “quarantined” and are being reviewed.
Lee Carden, Executive Director for CDF Hillsborough, says she met with Davis on April 3 and handed him a three-inch thick binder that included dozens of book titles available to minors in the HCPS schools.
“SCHOOLS SHOULD NOT BE BREAKING THE LAW”
Carden, an attorney by trade, says the book list she gave Davis was not exhaustive, but focused on the books her team identified as the most egregious violators of the law. She and Debbie Hunt, the group’s Education Division Lead, cited statutory language to demonstrate how each book constituted pornography under the state’s legal definition.
“Protecting children from pornographic materials is a constitutional and statutory duty of the members of the School Board and the Superintendent of Schools,” Carden told The Florida Standard in an email. “The books we have identified to the Superintendent are patently obscene and harmful to minors as those terms are defined by the Florida Legislature in Statute 847.”
The statute includes both depictions and descriptions in its definition of “obscene.”
“We are helping Hillsborough County Schools operate within the law to protect children from materials the Legislature has defined as obscene and harmful to minors,” she added. “It is a felony to provide obscene material to children on school grounds. Clearly our schools should not be breaking the law.”
Davis has not returned several requests for comment this week.
A district spokesperson declined to answer questions about the books or their review, but wrote in an email: “The district has not quarantined any books. However, district staff is reviewing a list of books to determine their age appropriateness and content.”
DO SCHOOL DISTRICTS RECOGNIZE PORN ANYMORE?
Parents and other Hillsborough County residents have called attention to dozens of sexually explicit books since 2021.
Julie Gebhards and her husband pulled their children out of the district after she discovered scores of sexually explicit books available to young students. Gebhards works closely with Carden, Hunt, Terry Kemple and other members of the “Hillsborough Grassroots Group” to engage HCPS leadership. Members of this group worked to compile the thick binder Carden delivered to Davis last week.
People who read pornographic books at school board meetings are often told to fill out a challenge form to have the book removed. Books that constitute pornography, however, are not required to undergo a formal challenge process since they are already outlawed by the state.
WILL THE BOOKS BE PERMANENTLY REMOVED?
The book challenge process can take months to complete, and the book remains available to youth during this time. In September 2022, Gebhards challenged This Book is Gay – a book that teaches students how to use adult hookup apps and techniques for different kinds of sex. The book stayed in Pierce Middle School’s library until March 28.
Two different committees tasked with reviewing the book ruled in favor of keeping it available to students as young as 11 years old. Hunt asserts that members of these committees will be tasked with identifying porn in the list of books CDF gave Davis.
“My only concern is many of the same people who reviewed This Book Is Gay and voted to keep it in middle schools are the people currently reviewing the books we found to be obscene,” Hunt told The Florida Standard. “However, Addison Davis has assured me he clearly instructed the reviewers regarding his expectations. I take that to mean he expects them to follow the law.”
PLAYING WITH LANGUAGE, TOYING WITH KIDS
The battle over what kids should be permitted to read in taxpayer funded schools is raging across America. In Florida, however, the governor and legislature have been outspoken advocates for removing sexually explicit content from public schools in the state.
Last month, Governor Ron DeSantis put a spotlight on pornographic books his team identified in various districts. Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried agreed with the governor’s label – although some on the Left have defended the books.
As Dan Kleinman of Safe Libraries pointed out on Twitter, the American Library Association has called for reframing of “sexually inappropriate” books as “diverse materials.”
One librarian in HCPS has advocated for removing age-appropriate restrictions altogether, in favor of “relevance.”
BOOK BANNING: A FAKE NARRATIVE
Carden – and the governor’s office – consistently reject accusations from the media and their opponents on the Left that conservatives are trying to “ban books.”
“Intellectual honesty requires acknowledgment that book banning is by definition making books illegal to buy or own anywhere, by anyone,” Carden argues.
“We are not proposing banning books, nor do we believe anyone should be banning books,” she added. “We are insisting that our public-school media centers must stop providing children access to pornographic material.”