Letter from Florida House speaker demands answers after content challenge on book in school in Hillsborough

Florida House Speaker Paul Renner put the Hillsborough County School District on notice with a letter demanding information about how the district reviews books facing content challenges.

Renner's letter to Superintendent Addison Davis follows Julie Gebhards' challenge of a book at Pierce Middle School, called "This Book is Gay." According to Gebhards, the book graphic depictions of sexual conduct and step-by-step instructions on how to access a mobile sex app.

A district spokesperson told FOX 13 the school's educational media materials committee reviewed the book and upheld the decision to keep it in the school's library.

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Renner is asking the district to explain why, to include communications among district leaders that led to that decision and to provide information about, what he calls, "an opaque decision-making process when addressing complaints from concerned parents."

In a news release announcing his letter, Renner said, "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. Any fair-minded person reviewing these books would agree, and we will not tolerate continued efforts to bypass Florida law."

"I'm thrilled to see this letter come out from the Speaker of the House because, honestly, we've been battling on as many fronts as we can," Gebhards said. "If we can rally parents together behind this and if we can address it this way and get the attention of the public and whatever we need to do to protect children from this is what we're going to do."

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Opponents of all ages, however, are battling back too. Palm Harbor University High School students staged a walk-out at lunchtime Friday to protest the Pinellas County School District's banning of the book, "The Bluest Eye."

Parents with the Florida Freedom to Read Project, including Raegan Miller, view the Speaker's actions as state overreach.

"I definitely think that they're getting too involved. I think that this is a decision that should be made between parents and educators. And again, we have always had the parental rights. I don't need anyone in Tallahassee telling me what my kids can and cannot read," Miller said, adding she thinks children should be exposed to a wide variety of content. "It helps if they can see themselves in books, or that they can develop empathy for other human beings that we live around every single day."

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In a statement to FOX 13, Superintendent Davis said:

"We respect the concerns of our elected officials and community members. Our district works to ensure we have age-appropriate content in our schools. Per state statute, staff is following our processes and procedures regarding objections to library media materials. The school’s Educational Media Materials Committee reviewed the book and upheld the decision to keep the book in the school’s library. We are now at Stage 2 of our process – the book is up for review with the district committee, and we will follow the integrity of our procedures. Based on policy, the superintendent does not have the ability to pull a book unilaterally without following district policies and procedures."