ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Fla. (WKRG) — Six days after Banned Books Week, Escambia County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Tim Smith is implementing a “Restricted Section” in the schools’ libraries.

According to the school system, the purpose of the Restricted Section will be to house books currently under appeal for questionable content. Parents will be given the opportunity to opt-in if they wish for their student to have access to titles housed in the Restricted Section as they are being reviewed.

“While we review disputed books, we want to make sure parents still have the right to make decisions relative to what they believe is and isn’t appropriate for their children,” Smith said. “We feel the implementation of a Restricted Section in each of our school libraries, from which students can access these titles only with parent permission, will best meet the needs of our families as books are under review. The final arbiter of what is appropriate for a child to read is always that child’s parent; not other parents, teachers, or aggrieved members of the public.”

On Friday, the school system laid out its Reconsideration of Educational Media Policy. It says that requests for reconsideration are to be submitted to the school with the title in question. Once the request has been submitted, the school will form a School Materials Review Committee to read the title, review the complaint, consult professional reviews, and consult outside experts as needed.  The School Materials Review Committee will then meet to discuss the title and hold a blind vote to keep the title, move the title to another level, or remove the title completely.  

The complainant then has the opportunity to appeal the decision to a District Materials Review Committee.  The District Materials Review Committee will read the title, review the complaint and appeal, consult professional reviews, and consult outside experts as needed.  The District Materials Review Committee will then meet to discuss the title and hold a blind vote to keep the title, move the title to another level, or remove the title completely.  The complainant then has the opportunity to appeal the decision to the School Board.  

“The School Board has the authority to remove books from its libraries; however, it cannot do so simply because it disagrees with the message of a book or it offends the personal morals of an individual,” said School Board General Counsel Ellen Odom.  “Through the review process, if the School Board determines that a particular book is pornographic or obscene, is not suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented, is inappropriate for the grade level and age group for which the material is used, or is factually inaccurate or misleading, it can direct the removal of such book.”

The school system said it is currently working on a revised school library collection development policy and educational media review policy to ensure consistency of the review process and consistency with the recently passed House Bill 1467, formally known as K-12 Educational Measure.

According to a study released this month by PEN America, Florida is among the top states with the most book bans. The non-profit said Florida has book bans in 21 of the state’s school districts involving 566 titles. The majority of the banned books contain themes or characters involving the LGBTQ community and people of color.

PEN America estimates that at least 40 percent of bans listed in the Index (1,109 bans) are connected to either proposed or enacted legislation, or to political pressure exerted by state officials or elected lawmakers to restrict the teaching or presence of certain books or concepts.

ECPS staff, in conjunction with the School Board, will hold a special workshop on October 10 at 8 a.m., to discuss School Board Rule 4.06 – Educational Media Materials.

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