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After Parents Read Rape Scenes At Board Meeting Schools Remove Books


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Updated: Thursday, 4:46 p.m.

SARASOTA COUNTY, FL — After parents read rape scenes from two books — “The Bluest Eye” and “Sold” — at the May 3 Sarasota County school board meeting, the titles were temporarily removed from school media centers throughout the district. (A video of the meeting can be viewed below.)

“The Bluest Eye” by Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison and National Book Award-finalist “Sold” by Patricia McCormick were removed from school media center shelves for less than 48 hours at the direction of Superintendent Dr. Brennan Asplen, Kelsey Whealy, a media relations specialist for the district, told Patch.

Find out what’s happening in Sarasotawith free, real-time updates from Patch.

The books are back on the shelves, but in order to check out either book, students under 18 are required to present a permission slip signed by their parents or guardians.


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Book banning has made national headlines in recent months after the graphic novel “Maus” was banned by a Tennessee School district in January. That was just one of the latest conservative challenges targeting reading materials in school libraries and classrooms.

Find out what’s happening in Sarasotawith free, real-time updates from Patch.

Dozens of bills have been introduced across the country—some passing, including in Florida—banning topics such as critical race theory, the New York Times reported. And last fall, the American Library Association reported more than 300 book challenges, an “unprecedented” number.

The term “grooming” is also the latest buzzword used by the right to challenge materials presented in schools, according to NPR. It’s generally used when referencing LGBTQ topics and has become a conservative rallying cry during Florida’s passage of the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which limits how gender and sexuality are discussed in public school classrooms.

During a public comment portion of Sarasota County Schools’ May 3 meeting, Alexis Spiegelman, chair of the Moms for Liberty’s Sarasota County chapter, read a scene from “The Bluest Eye” in which a young girl is raped by her father. She called the book very graphic, adding, “I’m embarrassed to even read this.”

Michael Conte also read a rape scene, sharing a passage from “Sold,” which is about a 13-year-old Nepalese girl sold into sexual slavery.

“It’s a little shocking. I remind you this is not a ‘Penthouse’ forum; this is in our schools,” he said. “If this doesn’t shock you, there’s something wrong with you. These books are being used in our schools. This is grooming. This is pornography. This is disgusting.”

Lisa Schurr, one of the founders of the organization Support Our Schools, condemned their reading the passages out of context. The tone Conte read the excerpt from “Sold” in “was disgusting,” she added. “He was playing it up to make it sound sexy. There’s nothing sexy about rape.”

She was later horrified to learn that both books were removed from school district libraries following the meeting.

What’s worse, Schurr told Patch, was that the superintendent “apparently decided unilaterally without consultation of the school board and without a review process” to remove them.

This goes against Sarasota County Schools’ policy 4.30 regarding challenged materials, she said.

According to the policy, a parent or resident objecting to any instructional materials used by the district must file a formal petition with the school board and a public hearing must take place regarding the book or other materials. The school board will then consider the recommendations of a hearing officer and make a final decision at a public meeting.

For materials found in a school’s media center, the policy says that parents or residents objecting to a specific title or work should first request, in writing, a meeting with the principal. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, the complainant must object in writing again and the complaint will be considered by a committee of teachers at the school. If they’re still not satisfied, they can ask a district-level committee to review the material and, finally, the superintendent.

“None of these things were done and I felt that as a parent of a child in the school district and as a taxpayer that was wrong,” Schurr said. “By taking the books off the shelf, you’re essentially controlling what my child reads. That’s my issue with this.”

Patch has reached out to Asplen about the issue, but he has not responded. This story will be updated when he does.

The district is currently reviewing all school board policies, including policy 4.30, “to ensure existing policies comply with any newly passed legislation that pertains to school districts,” Whealy said. “Suggested changes to any policies would be presented at a school board workshop in due time.”

After learning the books had been removed from school media centers, Schurr launched a change.org petition called “Stop Censorship in Sarasota County Schools,” which has nearly 200 signatures.

She also emailed Asplen and school board members, threatening to seek a temporary injunction against the district if the books weren’t put back on their shelves.

The district’s legal counsel reached out to her over the weekend and told her that the books were back in school media centers, she added.

While Schurr is pleased that the books were returned, she questions the requirement for high school students to present parental permission before they can check out these titles.

“They flipped it and put the burden on the people who want to have access to these books,” she said.

Watch the May 3 Sarasota County School Board meeting below:

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