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Polk County Public Schools' review committees approve 2 pieces of literature for students

a shelf of brightly colored books.
Thi Soares/Getty Images
The final decision about all books being reviewed will be made by the school board.

Polk County Public Schools' book review committees have approved two of the books previously placed under question for students' use — The Kite Runner and Drama.

Earlier this year, Polk County Public Schools came under national scrutiny when the district pulled 16 books from its libraries after a conservative group claimed they violated a state law that prohibits the distribution of harmful materials to minors.

In response, the district formed two review committees made up parents, community members, and high school juniors and seniors.

Each committee will evaluate eight books on the list using a list of questions ranging from the book's literary merit to whether illustrations are age-appropriate for students.

So far, the committees have approved two of the books previously placed under question for students' use —The Kite Runner and Drama.

Read more about the ongoing debate over removing books from Florida schools.

The bulk of community members on the panel reviewing the Khaled Hosseini's novel last week found merit in the story of The Kite Runner — citing its historical significance and ability to expand students' perspective.

Michelle Jarrett, the president of the Florida Association for Media In Education, noted the book's setting in wartime Afghanistan and its pertinence today.

"I also think it helps us create compassion and empathy regarding what happens during a war and when one country overtakes another, which is really applicable to students with what's happening right now with Ukraine," she said.

Some objections pointed to sexual content involving minors and explicit language — but ultimately, the majority of the committee decided the book is appropriate for middle and high school students.

The other review committee approved Raina Telgemeier's graphic novel Drama for middle and high school students.

Committee members said the book was appropriate for middle and high school students, as it accurately described school life.

Simone Paolercio is a civics teacher and the parent of a student at George Jenkins High School. She told members the coming-of-age story of a middle school drama student captures the essence of youth.

"As someone who spends a lot of time in middle school, honestly I could see my students in these characters,' she said. "Just the way it's written, it's geared to younger kids. It's very realistic on making other kids if they feel different, feel inclusive."

The final decision about all books being reviewed will be made by the school board.

The books were pulled after the district received a complaint in 2021 from a group called County Citizens Defending Freedom, which said the books are harmful because they conflict with community values.

The full list of books under the district’s review includes:

  • Two Boys Kissing 
  • Beloved
  • The Kite Runner 
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close 
  • Thirteen Reasons Why
  • The Vincent Boys
  • Real Live Boyfriends 
  • It’s Perfectly Normal
  • George 
  • I am Jazz
  • Drama
  • More Happy Than Not
  • Nineteen Minutes
  • The Bluest Eye
  • Tricks
  • Almost Perfect
Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.
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