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Hillsborough County school votes to keep book in library under the first challenge this year

people gathered around a table in a library
Nancy Guan
WUSF Public Media
Plant High School's seven-member committee convened on Monday afternoon to review an objection against the coming-of-age graphic novel "Blankets" by author Craig Thompson

Plant High School's review committee discussed the graphic novel "Blankets" by author Craig Thompson after a parent brought an objection to the school.

Hillsborough County's Plant High School voted to keep a graphic novel in its library in response to the district's first book challenge of the year.

A Plant High School parent brought the objection against the coming-of-age graphic novel "Blankets" by author Craig Thompson. The autobiographical novel tells the story of Thompson's childhood in an Evangelical Christian family and details his first love, early adulthood and changing spiritual identity.

The seven-member review board, comprised of school staff and parents, voted unanimously to keep the book in the school's library collection. Their decision affects only Plant High School.

Legislation passed earlier this year outlined further restrictions on what reading materials are allowed in schools, particularly on topics regarding gender and sexuality.

The measure, part of sweeping legislation known as the Let Kids Be Kids bill package, aimed to make the book challenge process easier. Provisions in the law mandated that the review process be public for the first time.

A handful of parents, staff and community members gathered on Monday to watch the committee deliberate on the educational merits of "Blankets" and whether or not the book complied with state laws governing age-appropriate materials in schools.

As part of the district's review process, committee members read the novel in full before convening on Monday to review the objections. The members addressed multiple instances in the book that the parent considered "lewd" and portrayed "a variety of adult topics suitable only for adults ages 18 and up."

After the one-hour session, the committee members ultimately agreed the illustrations and content served the purpose of the book, which was to portray a "crisis of faith" and a coming-of-age narrative.

The committee agreed that the book was appropriate for high school students, but not for middle or elementary school students.

Scott Gordon is a Special Education teacher at the school and one of the members of the review committee.

"After reviewing it and going through all the things she [the parent] was concerned about, we felt it was appropriate for high school, in this case," Gordon said.

Debbie Hunt, the executive director of the conservative group, Hillsborough Citizens Defending Freedom, said she did not agree with the review, but appreciated that the process was open to the community.

"The fact that the public can attend even if they can't speak, it's good for the public to be able to come and observe the process."

She said that she and other members of the Citizens Defending Freedom group will continue to attend these review sessions.

Last month, the Hillsborough County School Board debated on the broad scope and vague language of Florida legislation governing school materials.

According to a Hillsborough County Public Schools spokesperson, more guidance on how to comply with those state laws — including the Parental Bill of Rights known by opponents as "Don't Say Gay" and its expansion HB1069 — will be released in October.

As WUSF's general assignment reporter, I cover a variety of topics across the greater Tampa Bay region.