Kelly Jensen: Clay County, Florida. Why Read a Book When You Can Ban It Instead
For Bookriot, Kelly Jensen visits one Florida county where attacks on books are running high. Leading the attack is the local No Left Turn In Education group.
“And The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, who’s a problematic author,” spits Bruce Friedman into the microphone at the October 6 Clay County District Schools board meeting. Baldwin’s classic is among the nearly 2,000 books on a list that Friedman, president of the Florida chapter of No Left Turn in Education, claims to have that are inappropriate and he will be challenging in the district. If Friedman’s name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s likely because he earned fame throughout right-wing circles for having his mic cut off in late June at a board meeting when reading a passage from a book he planned to challenge.
The list of restrictions is long. And the process of reviewing book challenges is a mess.
The final decision rests in the hands of the district superintendent, who can choose to accept the committee’s votes or override them. However, if the individual who filed the book complaint doesn’t like the superintendent-approved decision of the reconsideration meeting with the committee comprised of administrators, educators, and community members, they have ten days to appeal that decision, which leaves it up to the school board to decide. Clay County’s school board, now in the hands of right-wing “parental rights” advocates after the recent election, can then decide based on their values, rather than what’s written in the policy–or what’s right for the students they ostensibly serve.
Hundreds of book challenges have been pouring into Clay County District Schools over the last few months. Even prior to the new materials challenge policies, Clay County was an example of how books get banned in America. One thing worth noting about the school district, which differs from most other districts in the country, is that the Superintendent is an elected position. David Broskie, the current Superintendent, was elected in March 2020. And because his position is elected, Broskie finds himself in the precarious position of defending the rights of students or pandering to groups like No Left Turn and Moms For Liberty to keep his job.
And one more important detail. Nobody involved at any stage, including the person lodging the complaint, has to have actually read the book.