Feb 3, 2022 - Politics

Polk County hurries to pull books from school shelves

Illustration of a page in a book with everything censored out except for "once upon a time."

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Polk County isn't waiting to see how new legislation shakes out. The county is already pulling books from its school shelves.

State of play: As lawmakers discuss banning books that displease parents, and even classroom conversations around queerness, Polk County has removed 16 titles tackling race, LGBTQ+ issues and other topics deemed controversial, per Bay News 9.

  • County Citizens Defending Freedom (CCDF) successfully argued with the county's school library system that the books violate Florida Statue 847.012 by containing "detailed verbal descriptions or narrative accounts of sexual excitement, or sexual conduct and that is harmful to minors."

Between the lines: The books aren't technically banned. Jason Geary, spokesperson for Polk County Public Schools, told the station they're unavailable "so a thorough, thoughtful review of their content can take place."

  • Geary tells Axios they aren't sure how long the review will last or what format it will follow.
  • CCDF did not respond to Axios' request for comment.

Details: Among the books being reviewed are titles that tackle race, like "Beloved" and "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison, and LGBTQ+ books like "George" by Alex Gino and "Two Boys Kissing" by David Levithan.

The big picture: Book ban panic is nationwide, as titles that have been on shelves for years and sometimes decades are also under review in several states, most recently in Texas.

  • Axios' Russell Contreras attributes the culture war to a pivotal midterm election year, COVID-19 frustrations and a backlash against efforts to call out systemic racism — all driven disproportionately by white suburban and rural parents.
  • But banning books won't stop them from being read. After "Maus" was banned in Tennessee schools, sales of the book soared.

What they're saying: Author Lois Lowry, whose books have been both widely assigned and banned in schools, tells Axios what's happening is more than a trend — "it is a tsunami of stupidity and short-sightedness."

  • "We seem to be heading down that treacherous path again. I don't know how we stop it, except in the voting booth," the part-time West Florida resident says.
  • "Kids give me hope. And a lot of kids are standing up and objecting to the idiocy of book-banning. I just hope their passion lasts, that they're not beaten down by the shrill tenacity of those who feel threatened by free speech."

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