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School board meeting talks finance, plans open forum on "book ban"

Posted 1/11/24

FLEMING ISLAND – If one aspect of Clay County has captured the nation’s attention, it is the monthly School Board meeting. Discussions surrounding book challenges, appeals and removals garnered …

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School board meeting talks finance, plans open forum on "book ban"


Posted

FLEMING ISLAND – If one aspect of Clay County has captured the nation’s attention, it is the monthly School Board meeting. Discussions surrounding book challenges, appeals and removals garnered national headlines last year. Florida leads the nation in challenges and books removed from school libraries, and Clay County’s school district leads the state.

If the first school board meeting of the year is any indication, the debate will continue throughout 2024.

EdFIRST, a half-cent sales tax implemented to raise revenue for infrastructure improvements in public schools, was reported to have raised $17.8 million to make needed infrastructure repairs at several schools.

Bruce Friedman, however, wanted to put the focus back on his quest to ban books he believed were offensive. He handed his newest installment of challenges to the board of what he said portrays explicit material in public school libraries.

“Through the course of this month, I have submitted – with today’s batch – 34 new book challenges (and) 17 appeals. There are now 418 pending appeals,” Friedman said.

“You have had a year to address these appeals. Zero have been addressed,” he said.

Friedman achieved national attention last year for submitting an unprecedented number of book challenges, more than 90% of which can be attributed to him.

“With regards to EdFIRST – I listened closely – tens of millions of taxpayer dollars are being (spent on renovations). That’s all great. How much does it cost to clean up the pollution or pornography in our libraries? Do you even know? I’m going to let you develop that on your own,” he said.

Friedman expressed frustration that many books he has submitted appeals for are still accessible on library shelves. He threatened to call the press and submit his reports on the egregious books, one by one.

“We’ll let the community decide. That’s my plan,” he said.

Tara Richardson followed Friedman during the public comment portion of the meeting. She said her grandkids asked for books during the holidays and how she enjoyed gifting them their requested titles.

“It occurred to me that my granddaughters are very blessed to have a household that appreciates the diversity of books and the different points of view that can be presented in them,” Richardson said.

“They use the public library to (supplement) whatever they might need. But they are also blessed to have parents who recognize the importance of a diverse point of view in their educational process,” she said.

She said many students are not so blessed to be able to afford a private collection.

“I hope I live long enough to convince you all this is not the best process,” Richardson said. “And I won’t threaten you with anything if you don’t.”

Board Member Erin Skipper invited the public to an open forum on Jan. 16 at 6 p.m. at Orange Park High to discuss the district’s media policy, primarily the “book ban” debate.

“I know we’ve been talking about books quite some time,” said Skipper. “We want to hear from you.”