JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Right now, 26 books for grade school students in Duval County are being held for review by the district to determine if they comply with a new Florida law.
Duval County Public Schools is currently waiting on state guidance before accepting or rejecting those books as part of school curriculum or into school libraries.
One specific children's book currently under review by the district is about an athlete who was an American hero.
Before becoming the home run king of Major League Baseball, Hank Aaron played minor league baseball in Jacksonville. But a book about that time might not be permitted in Duval County schools.
The book "Henry Aaron's Dream", which was written by Matt Tavares, is about the rise of Hank Aaron from a young boy in the segregated south to a Major League Baseball star.
A significant portion of the book focuses on a young Henry Aaron playing minor league baseball as a 19-year-old in Jacksonville in 1953. But right now, the book is being held for review as Duval Schools reviews the book's full content to determine if it is age-appropriate and compliant with Florida law. The district's full statement regarding review/rejection of books can be found below.
The so-called Stop Woke Law, more formally titled the Individual Freedom Act, was passed by the Florida legislature last year. It prohibits schools from teaching materials about race or sex that could make some people feel “guilt” or “anguish.” (Although, the law is currently being contested in federal court.)
This book notes that Hank Aaron endured discrimination and physical threats in the still segregated era.
Kimberly Allen is the CEO of 904ward and says that restricting exposure to history doesn’t help students learn.
"We are allowing our education system to be politicized to the detriment of not teaching what is absolutely necessary for our students to learn," says Allen. "It's nice to have a role model for what it looks like to overcome that and still be successful in spite of experiencing some of those challenges."
The field where Aaron played while in Jacksonville is currently named after him and is located at J.P. Small Park at 1701 Myrtle Ave N.
Young kids in Jacksonville can play on that same field, but third-graders in Duval County schools might not be able to read the book about the Hall of Famer in their classroom if the book is rejected.
"I wonder what message we send to students when we say these books or a book like Hank Aaron overcoming racism in our own backyard and playing here in Jacksonville," says Allen, "what message does that send to students who look and feel like Hank Aaron did and would really benefit from a book like that?"
According to Florida House Bill 1467 all district personnel involved in library materials have to go through a training program designed by the Florida Department of Education to help determine age appropriate materials.
The state of Florida recently named Duval Public Schools as an "Exemplary School District" for teaching African American history.
Later this month Kimberly Allen and 904ward will create what they call "Little Free Diverse Libraries" all across Jacksonville, which will be filled with books about marginalized and diverse groups of people.
When asked about the review/rejection of children's books Duval County Schools and were provided a list of all the books that have been rejected, reviewed and approved by the district
Duval County Schools also issued this statement to First Coast News:
Not all books are appropriate for children at all grade levels, and the State of Florida has recently implemented new legislation providing specific requirements in early grades. While a book may appear to have an appropriate title, we must evaluate the full content of the book to ensure its appropriateness for children at that grade level and its compliance with new laws.
The books in question are all books for elementary aged children for independent reading as part of our goals to develop their reading skills. Our libraries and classrooms contain many books for independent reading that cover topics in Black History.
Additionally, studies in Black History are embedded into our core curriculum and the state learning standards that we follow. The State of Florida recently recognized our school district as an “Exemplary School District” for teaching African American History. Following input from our students, we actually published our own book focusing on local African American History. You can learn more about our work by viewing this video from 2021: https://www.teamduval.org/2021/10/18/video-teaching-african-american-history-in-duval-county/
The 26 books currently being held were from an order of almost 1,300 titles. More than 1,100 were distributed immediately to classrooms. These included a rich array of titles, authors, stories, and main characters from multiple, diverse perspectives.
Of the nearly 1,300 original titles, 179 required further review. Among these were many substitute titles which Perfection Learning sent to us in place of titles which we ordered but were unavailable at that time.
- Of the 179 held for review, 106 were deemed to be useful for our reading goals and have been distributed to classrooms.
- We sent 47 titles back to Perfection Learning including all substitute titles that were not part of our original order.
- We are awaiting state guidance before we conduct a final review of the remaining 26 titles.
Note again that even though a title may appear to be appropriate, we must evaluate each book’s full content for its age-level appropriateness and compliance with Florida law.
Additionally, each student's school identification card functions as a library card in the Jacksonville Public Library System. We encourage reading at home, and if parents want their children to read books not available in our collection, those books are likely to be available to them through the public library.
A company called Perfection Learning provides books for Duval Schools classrooms and libraries. First Coast News was provided the following statement when asked about the district's review/rejection process:
For over 50 years, Perfection Learning has provided novels and classroom libraries to K-12 schools and libraries across the country. Our goal is to provide schools with a wide selection of authentic, high-quality texts from classics and culturally significant titles to award-winners and bestsellers. Our literary experts strive to choose titles from a diverse set of authors, cultures, and viewpoints to ignite a love of reading among students of all backgrounds and abilities.
Our selection process includes expert recommendations, state and national recommended reading lists, award lists, teacher surveys, publisher recommendations, state and district curriculum requirements, and a variety of other sources. We continue to refine our process and criteria to make sure schools have access to the very best literature available. While we recognize that occasionally a specific title may engender a variety of opinions on appropriateness, we let the school customize their selections based on the needs of their students, teachers, and community.
Finally, our literature selections reflect our position that a diversity of viewpoints and expressions, rather than weakening our society, strengthens it. Reading a wide range of texts and engaging in discussion is a critical foundation of learning, not just in school, but in life. Every student deserves the right to see themselves accurately represented in the texts they read as well as be given the opportunity to see the world from differing perspectives.