TAMPA, FLORIDA — An army of concerned Floridians fired away at the Hillsborough County School Board on Tuesday for failing to remove pornographic books from school libraries.
Scores of community members – including parents, grandparents, young adults and teenage students – pleaded with the board to enforce existing laws that prohibit the distribution of pornographic materials to minors.
Speakers read excerpts from dozens of books found in various schools in the district that feature explicit sexual content. Florida Statute 847.001 includes both depictions and descriptions in its definition of obscene materials.
“This board has been provided with this information time and time again, and therefore is knowingly providing porn to minors,” said Laura Kissak, a mother of three.
Will Witt, Editor in Chief of The Florida Standard, pointed out the criminal nature of the books.
“If you were to take a book like this and go out onto the street and read it to children, you could be arrested for the pornographic imagery that is in this book,” Witt said. “I call on all of you to do your job, which is to protect and represent children. And if you do nothing, because there are no excuses, you are responsible for the sexualization of our children.”
One former U.S. Army major agreed, saying: “As a retired army officer, I believe there are clear crimes being committed right now and I ask the board to enforce the law. If I did this, I would be arrested.”
Many speakers argued that the books make children more vulnerable to sexual predators by unnecessarily or prematurely exposing them to mature concepts at a young age. Conservatives often use the word “groomer” to describe those who think children should have access to sexually explicit books.
“I was victimized at eight [years old] by someone who was aggressive and used my naivete to trap me,” one adult male resident said. “I was innocent before and I wished to have maintained that innocence until I was more mature.”
“As a citizen I don’t intend to come up here and be a proponent of censorship for fully mature adults,” the man added. “This type of thing is causing victims and this type of literature is grooming people to a destructive lifestyle.”
Kissak added: “Supporting the teen gay community should not entail steering minors towards acts that are meant for adults and can also set them up to lead to pedophiles and sex traffickers.”
DOES ANYONE EVEN CARE?
Several speakers blasted board members for what they interpreted to be apathetic body language.
“I look up at all of you and I see no reaction. I’m flabbergasted,” said Jennifer Flebotte, a single mother of three boys in Hillsborough County schools. “I would be sitting in your spot, devastated. My face would drop.”
Flebotte said she recently relocated to the Tampa area from Fairfax County, Virginia in order to “to get my three children out of this kind of environment.”
“What I’ve learned about these books from this battle in Hillsborough County is that your hired librarians have chosen these books for students, children,” Shea Gebhards said. “Books that contain more explicit sexual content than many adults even want to read.”
Following the conclusion of public comments, Board Chair Nadia Combs immediately transitioned to the next portion of the meeting without responding to any of the speakers’ remarks.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR REMOVING THE BOOKS?
Later in the meeting, Superintendent Davis claimed he does not possess the authority to remove the books. Apparently, parents are expected to go through the district’s cumbersome challenge process for every individual copy of each objectionable book. Speakers read from 45 books on Tuesday, many of which were in multiple schools.
“There is conversation of a workshop that’s forthcoming to have a conversation about procedures, what we’re doing, what training we’re providing, how we’re reviewing and how we are selecting,” Davis said. “The issue is, it just keeps getting pushed back.”
“I would love if you and the chair would make that a priority,” board member Stacy Hahn replied.
THIS BOOK IS GAY MAY STAY
The board is expected to make a final ruling on Tuesday, March 28 on This Book is Gay, a book in Pierce Middle School that has been challenged twice. While two different book review committees led by the school district voted to keep the book in the library, House Speaker Paul Renner opened an investigation in order to understand how these committees made their determinations.
“While the vast majority of reading and educational materials in our school libraries are age-appropriate, some books are so clearly obscene and directed to children that they would be rejected by adult bookstores,” Renner told The Florida Standard. “Any fair-minded person reviewing these books would agree, and we will not tolerate continued efforts to bypass Florida law.”
Ricardo Rodriguez, a father of two, read from the book.
“On page 200, a married man has sex with a 16-year-old boy,” Rodriguez said. “Last time I checked, this was against the law and is called pedophilia. We have it for kids books.”
THE GOVERNOR’S POSITION
On March 8, Governor Ron DeSantis hosted an exposé on pornographic books found in Florida public schools libraries.
The press conference began by playing a video compilation of sexually explicit books found in various school districts, as well as inaccurate news reports related to the issue. News organizations cut their feeds to avoid showing the materials.
“There is a concerted effort to bring some of this sexualization into the classroom, particularly in some of these young grades,” DeSantis said after the video concluded. “Parents, when they’re sending their kids to school, they should not have to worry about this garbage being in the schools.”