Duval County Public Schools (DCPS), which serve Jacksonville and the surrounding area, is one of the largest districts in the state of Florida. The district serves roughly 130,000 students and employs over 8,000 teachers. It’s also one of the most diverse, with nearly 70% of its students from minority backgrounds and nearly 40% are economically disadvantaged. DCPS is the 20th largest district in the country.
DCPS has been a target for Florida-based Moms For Liberty since the group’s founding, with members showing up to board meetings and writing to the board demanding a host of changes. A November 2021 report to the board, for example, shows the group writing a lengthy letter stating it would be inappropriate for educators to attend professional development on diversity and inclusion. The August 23 primaries allowed three candidates endorsed by or involved in the group to earn seats on the board, and the millage for the district barely passed.
Florida, of course, is also home to several of the strictest book ban laws in the country. Between House Bill 1467, which gives space for parental input and feedback on books and materials used in schools, including listing all the titles in classrooms and libraries and House Bill 1557, the Parental Rights in Education Bill (the “Don’t Say Gay” bill) curtails discussion of gender or sexual identity in public schools, books, curriculum, and materials available in classrooms and libraries have been under fire.
It is all too fitting, then, to have few answers to the question of what happened to dozens of books ordered for Duval County Public Schools last year.
The “Essential Voices” classroom library collection offers a wide range of age-appropriate, inclusive books for use in schools. Back in July 2021, DCPS ordered multiple sets of books for K-5 classrooms, and they arrived in the district by January 2022.
In a FOIA request submitted by the Florida Freedom to Read Project, Duval County Public Schools’s Public Records Coordinated Nicole Battle Thompson confirmed that the books were flagged by the district’s Academic Services.
“When the Essential Voices classroom libraries arrived at schools, Academic Services identified titles that were either substituted or included content too mature for the grade level for which they were included in that collection,” reads the FOIA response. The schools in the district were notified of the decision via regional superintendents and told to remove the collection from classroom libraries until they could be reviewed.
The books were pulled from classrooms January 27. As of July 7–when Battle responded to the FOIA request–review of the books is not complete, if it has been initiated at all. All of the books remain in storage.
A total of 177 unique titles are among those sitting in storage, and nearly every title is by or about people of color or about LGBTQ+ themes and topics. Among the titles, all of which are designated by appropriate levels, include At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorrell (Kindergarten), Grace Lin’s Dim Sum for Everyone (1st grade), Pink Is For Boys by Robb Perlman (3rd grade), and more. The complete list is below, acquired from the FOIA request.
Academic Services has not yet made a decision on the titles, nor have any individual titles been identified among those deemed inappropriate. Instead, they sit in storage, rather than in classrooms for use.
DCPS’s decision to pull these books mirrors what happened in Rapid City Area Schools during the last school year: over 350 new books were acquired for high school classrooms and administration decided to pull the books before they were ever made available to students. The books, which were held in storage, were only discovered via a surplus materials report from the school board.
As of now, no information about the future of these 170+ books in Duval County Public Schools is available. They have not shown up on a surplus materials report, suggesting that they are still somewhere within the district. School board agendas and minutes do not indicate who authorized the purchase of these materials. The only information available is that lying in the FOIA request: somewhere in administration, the decision was made to withhold the books to review. Who may be involved in the review process is unknown, as is any timeline.
Given that the books have been in storage for eight months and the new board is friendly to censorship, chances are they may be there for a long time, denying students the rights to developmentally-appropriate, engaging materials paid for by tax money.