This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Florida Republicans have made public schools the new battlefront in the nation’s culture wars. But a proposal being considered by the Pasco County School District could turn down the political heat. The measure would give parents control over their child’s reading material, while protecting the rights of others to a full, open library. This is a sensible accommodation that protects all sides.
School boards across Florida have been rocked in recent months by parents complaining of reading materials, a frenzy whipped by Gov. Ron DeSantis and other top Republican leaders, who blame a “woke” education culture for “indoctrinating” students and eroding parental rights. While Pasco – unlike some other districts – has not faced an influx of challenges to the books on its shelves, district officials want to get ahead of any problems by working to limit the fallout from a battle over books.
As the Tampa Bay Times’ Jeffrey S. Solochek reported, a team of educators has scoured the shelves to locate titles that have generated controversy in other counties, in order to have a full accounting of everything in the collection, Superintendent Kurt Browning said. But Browning said they’re not pulling materials out of circulation. And he wants to keep it that way.
“I do not want this district to be in the book banning business,” Browning told the Times. “For every parent you have that wants a book banned, you have another who says they do not. I struggle with having a group of parents … where they’re going to dictate what my child or your child has access to. ”
What’s emerged is a practical idea for enabling parents to make choices for their own children without interfering with the rights of others.
The district leadership team is examining ways to allow parents to register electronically whether their children must have specific permission to access library books, or if they are allowed to take what they want. A notification would come up when children provide their student number for checking out the materials. The idea stems from book challenges in Flagler and Polk counties, where significant cases have arisen. Browning said the district hopes to make the system “as seamless as possible” and available next school year. School Board members have offered tentative support.
There’s no perfect way to respond in real time to the evolving political controversy over books. Some School Board members have cautioned that any system cannot be unduly difficult for parents to use, or overly burdensome for district staff to administer. But the concept is simple – to give parents who want it greater control over their child’s reading material. And there is a natural gatekeeper in the library checkout. It should not be too hard to design a workable procedure.
Parents, of course, will need to make the effort. Many districts have long had established procedures for challenging books, which is expressly protected by state law. But parents have rarely gone through existing channels. In Hillsborough County, for example, where a small but vocal group has for months criticized the district’s offerings, only one book has been challenged since the 2011 school year. (After a review, the book was retained.)
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This controversy has been blown out of proportion, and Pasco deserves credit for exploring a fair, sensible approach. It may not satisfy the self-appointed book police, but it does promise to treat all parents equally.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.