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Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

Moms from St. Johns talk about their lawsuit over school textbooks

By meerna Jun12,2024

Two moms from St. County. Johns are currently at the center of an ongoing dispute over Florida’s approach to regulating books in school libraries.

Last week, Nancy Tray and Anne Watts Tressler, along with Orange County mom Stephana Ferrell, sued the state, alleging that a law passed in 2023 making it easier to challenge school textbooks tramples on their parental rights.

I am talking with Jacksonville todaySt. County moms. Johns, Nancy Tray and Anne Watts Tressler, say they decided to sue the state because they believe the law gives people challenging the books more rights than parents who object to the challenges.

The law they are challenging is the 2023 expansion of the Parental Rights in Education Act, which made it easier to access tools for solving difficult materials in school libraries. The state says it tries not to expose children to explicit content, but Tray and Tressler say they should have equal rights to do so.

Locally, the fight returned to the forefront on May 28, when the St. County School Board. Johns made the decision to restrict access to several books, including novels by Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse Five and Erin Gruwell Journal of Freedom Writers.

Tressler has two children in local elementary schools and says he has been closely following the challenges facing books in recent years.

“What really got me more hooked was going through the list of… children’s books that had been removed or restricted,” Tressler says Jacksonville today. “I wanted to know how I could object to this, to the fact that these books were banned.”

There is a mechanism by which parents and community members without children in Florida public schools can advocate for books to be removed from the library, but parents who oppose the removal of a book have no way to request that it be returned to shelves. This violates parents’ rights, the lawsuit claims.

Tressler was particularly interested in books including: Anti-racist child by Ibram X. Kendi and When Aidan became a brother by Kyle Lukoff. Kendi’s book aims to help parents talk to their children about racism, and Lukoff’s book tells the story of a young boy discovering his identity as transgender.

Anti-racist child in St. County Schools Johns was subject to restrictions and available only for educational purposes with signed parental permissions, and When Aidan became a brother has been completely removed.

Tressler says LGBTQ+ topics are top of mind for her because her sister is married to a woman.

“My daughters visit every summer, so they know this community very well, and the fact that we’re taking these books away basically sends a message to the kids that it’s not okay with these people,” she says, “for them to be less than everyone else.”

But the state has a different opinion. LGBTQ+ topics have been at the forefront since the first version of the Parental Rights in Education Act, which opponents call “Don’t Say You’re Gay,” came into force in 2022.

Republicans in the Florida Legislature say discussions about gender and sexuality should not take place in schools. In addition to giving people more tools to question books, the law is cracking down on classroom discussions about gender and sexuality. This includes mentions of same-sex relationships in math problems, as mentioned by St. County Senator. Johns Travis Hutson auditioning in 2022.

Last year, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz said the bill was intended to clarify what teachers are supposed to do in classrooms.

“We’re not removing anything here,” Diaz said. “All we do is set expectations so our teachers are clear: They are expected to teach to the standards.”

Successful legal challenges to the Parental Rights in Education Act have led to the clarification that LGBTQ+ topics alone do not constitute grounds for removing books from a library. However, allegations of sexually explicit and violent content led to the restriction and removal of books such as “Slaughterhouse-Five”.

During a school district hearing on May 28, a St. County resident Johns, Jean Moore, argued that Vonnegut’s novel, which had been retained from the district’s high school libraries after earlier objections, should be removed altogether.

To defend her case, Moore read excerpts from several graphic scenes depicting violence and sexual content in the book.

“It’s supposed to be a classic, but that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for schools,” Moore told the School Board.

The School Board decided to limit access to the novel to seniors at St. County High Schools. Johns.

For Tray, this was the last straw.

Tray says he understands they like books Slaughterhouse Five contain graphic content, but he believes that removing books from school libraries is inappropriate.

“Are there parts that are absolutely chilling, memorable and… graphic? Absolutely,” says Tray Jacksonville today. “It’s about World War II. … My son may very well enlist in the military next year.”

With one student entering 12th grade and the other just starting high school, she says it’s ridiculous that one of her children can read Vonnegut’s novel about the horrors of war and the other can’t.

“I don’t think we’re doing our children a favor by shielding them from these stories,” he says. “I know my kids can handle it and I would love for them to read this book.”

Parents who challenge the law are hoping for a change that will allow them to have the same say about books in school libraries as parents who want the books removed.

“A library should be for everyone,” Tray says. “Education is not one size fits all, and neither are our media centers.”

The lawsuit against the Florida Board of Education names Tressler, Tray and Orange County parent Stephana Ferrell as plaintiffs. The parents are represented by Democracy Forward, the ACLU of Florida and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

By meerna

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