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Hernando County School Board removes 19 book titles from campus libraries

Hernando school board members sit at school board dais
Nancy Guan
Hernando County schools Superintendent John Stratton speaks during a May 7, 2024, school board meeting about book challenges.

The board went against previous review committees' recommendations to keep more than half the books.

Nineteen book titles will no longer be available in Hernando County school libraries.

Board members reviewed 23 book challenges made by Moms for Liberty member Julia Thomas last fall. Three of the books were challenged separately at the high school and middle school levels.

The special meeting was held earlier than usual at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday to avoid pushing the discussion late into the night.

Before the special meeting, review committees consisting of school staff, community members and parents, read the challenged books and recommended keeping 13 in school libraries.

According to Hernando County schools' book challenge policy, the school board has the final say on whether to keep or remove books. Board members ultimately voted to remove 19 of the 20 titles being considered at all school levels.

"Spinning" by Tillie Walden was the only book that was retained.

"Moms for Liberty considers this a very big win today," Thomas said.

The school district received about 100 objections this year, according to staff. About 50 challenges were reviewed as some of the objections were repeats.

About 40 books were removed as a result.

Most book objections, according to the Florida Freedom to Read Project, were filed by people affiliated with a group such as Moms For Liberty. The conservative group has led the movement on book bans across the state.

Florida leads the nation in the number of book bans, according to advocacy group PEN America.

Moms for Liberty members, however, are pushing back against the term "book banning." Instead, they say they're "removing books" rather than a complete ban, and that copies are still available in public libraries outside of schools.

"They're still allowed to have access, which is fine. They can do that at home, but just not at school," said Thomas.

Other community members, however, point to the fact that not all families have the means to take their children to public libraries.

Kim Mulrooney, a parent to children in the district, said the decision about whether kids should have access to certain books should be left up to parents.

"Some parents can't take their kids to the public library on weekends," said Mulrooney. "Most of the public libraries are closed on weekends and most of us parents work during the week."

Discussion between board members became heated during the meeting.

Shannon Rodriguez, who was elected with backing from Moms for Liberty, questioned why the district has to go through the challenge process.

"Everything I've heard is pornographic today," said Rodriguez. "We cannot have this on our shelves."

Rodriguez was under fire last year for reporting a teacher for showing a Disney movie with a gay character. The incident drew national attention.

Superintendent John Stratton countered Rodriguez's statement.

"If something is deemed pornographic, then it should not be in our schools," he said, "Therein lies the big question: What is pornography?"

Stratton emphasized that the board was not making a legal decision, and that the decision to remove a book is based on their interpretation of a set of criteria outlined in state law.

The state passed a law this year that limits the number of book removals to one per month for residents who do not have a child in the district.

Books removed Tuesday include:

  • "Damsel," by Elana Arnold
  • "Felix Ever After," by Kacen Callender
  • "House of Earth and Blood," by Sarah J. Maas
  • "Home Going," by Yaa Gyasi
  • "Red Hood," by Elana K. Arnold
  • "Beautiful," by Amy Reed
  • "Boy Toy," by Barry Lyga
  • "Man O' War," by Cory McCarthy
  • "Cemetery Boys," by Aiden Thomas
  • "Forever" by Judy Blume
  • "Nineteen Minutes," by Jodi Picoult
  • "Kingdom of Ash," by Sarah J. Maas
  • "Little and Lion," by Brandy Colbert
  • "A Court of Thorns and Roses," by Sarah J. Maas
  • "Opposite of Innocent," by Sonya Sones
  • "Chosen," by P.C. Cast and Kristen Cast
  • "Life Is Funny," by E.R. Frank (separate challenges for high school and middle school)
  • "Queen of Shadows," by Sarah J. Maas (separate challenges for high school and middle school)
  • "Tower of Dawn," by Sarah J. Maas (separate challenges for high school and middle school)
As WUSF's general assignment reporter, I cover a variety of topics across the greater Tampa Bay region.