115 books in Collier Schools on LGBTQ+, race and sex get advisory label
There are 115 books in the Collier County School District that now bare advisory notices, both online and on physical copies of the books, after parents and community members challenged the content.
The advisories were placed on the books in February and March in accordance with the state's Parents' Bill of Rights Law that gives parents rights relating to their minor child's education, upbringing and health care, according to the district.
The books with advisory labels include those with LGBTQ+ characters, transgender characters, characters of color, sexual content and some are picture books for young children.
The advisory does not prevent students from checking out the books but is visible to parents who look at the books their students check out.
Many of the books with advisories, including "Thirteen Reasons Why" and "Gender Queer," have been the target of nationwide criticism, which has spiked since the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It is also important to note that Collier County Public Schools has not removed any books from our media centers," the district said in an emailed statement. "Our school district is mindful of and concerned with protecting the rights of all students and employees."
PEN America, a nonprofit that works to protect free expression through literature, initially found 110 books with advisories. The 115 figure was provided by the district.
Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America, said this is the first time he's seen a school district place advisories on this many books.
"I haven't seen little warning labels like this on books anywhere in the country to my knowledge, and the fact that this is 110 books that we found that had these labels, that magnitude is quite high," Friedman said. "The idea of segregating one set of texts, in this manner with these special warnings, is going to stigmatize them and could lead to those books not being read by people that want to read them."
Nationwide effort to ban books
In 2021, the National Library Association reported more than 729 attempted bans of 1,597 individual books. The association said there were more censorship attempts in 2021 than at any time since it began tracking more than 20 years ago.
Those censorship attempts are happening in public and school-based libraries.
On March 25, Gov. Ron DeSantis approved House Bill 1467, which gives parents and members of the public increased access to the process of selecting and removing school library books and instructional materials.
On March 28, DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill by critics, that prohibits school instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
The passage of these bills has emboldened parents and community members to speak out against library materials.
In Collier County, members of the Florida Citizen's Alliance — a nonprofit that aims to improve education for children by empowering teachers, students and parents — have spoken up against many books in the district's libraries. The alliance has a list of 58 "pornographic" books held in Florida's school libraries it wants removed. Many of those books contain LGBTQ+ characters.
From July 2021 to March 2022, 204 books had been banned in seven Florida school districts, according to a report by PEN America. Florida has the third largest number of books bans in schools, coming after Texas with 713 bans and Pennsylvania with 456 bans.
The Florida school districts are in Brevard, Clay, Flagler, Indian River, Orange, Pinellas and Polk counties.
Why are the advisories cause for concern?
The advisory itself states “this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students.”
The advisory goes on to say that the decision over whether or not the book is suitable for students is up to the parents.
"I think we just need to understand that this isn't the result of librarians reviewing these books to my knowledge carefully or in a considered manner," Friedman said. "That isn't the result of an internal library process. It's the result of a political pressure campaign to force the district to comply with one group's objectives and ideology."
Of the 110 books with advisory labels PEN America found:
- 46 titles (42%) are stories that have LGBTQ+ characters or themes.
- 16 titles (15%) are stories that have transgender characters or themes.
- 34 titles (31%) are stories that have protagonists or secondary characters of color.
- 47 titles (46%) are stories that have sexual content, including educational books about sexual health.
- 10 titles (9%) are children’s picture books.
"Many of these books are children's books. They are books about families, they are books with simple stories," Friedman said. "The other books are might be more complicated or more mature. But you're basically saying that this one group gets a kind of final say more important than what's already described on a dust jacket."
These types of labels may turn a reader off from reading the book or signal the topics are "not normal" or "taboo," according to Friedman.
Collier County Schools book objection process
The labels were initially put on the books to be in compliance with state law, according to the district, and as a "compromise" with community members who were objecting to the materials in school libraries, according to Friedman.
For the 2022-23 school year, the Collier County School District has established a Media Center Book Objection Review Committee. The committee was formed to be in compliance with the Parents' Bill of Rights Law.
"Whether we are following new state laws or responding to concerns from community members, Collier County Public Schools is mindful of both U.S. Supreme Court precedent based on First Amendment principles, Fourteenth Amendment equal protection principles, and Florida Civil Rights Law," the district said in an emailed statement.
The committee will help provide guidance to parents or residents of Collier County who have objections to books in the district's media centers, according to the district. If they want to object to a book, they can fill out a form and the committee will review the book and make a decision.
The committee is made up of two parents, a community member, a certified media specialist, an English Language Arts staff member, a district English Language Arts representative, an expert in child development and a school or district administrator.
Any actions put in place before the committee was formed, including the advisory notices, will be reviewed and revised as needed, according to the district.
More information on the committee and the objection form can be found at collierschools.com/instructionalmaterials.
"To ensure that parents retain control over what their child is reading from the media center collection, we provide parents directions for accessing the online system in order to view books checked out by their child(ren)," the district said in the emailed statement.
Nikki Ross covers education for the Fort Myers News-Press and Naples Daily News. She can be reached at NRoss@gannett.com or follow her on Twitter @nikkiinreallife.