Polk County, FL – Over the course of the last three years the United States has seen many changes, but one thing has remained the same: American citizens are relocating to Florida in record numbers. According to a recent article from the United States Census Bureau, Florida was the fastest-growing state in the last year, with over 400,000 new residents putting down roots in its sub-tropical climate. This 1.9% population increase has resulted in a total population of over 22 million people in the Sunshine State.
With those record-breaking migration numbers, an increase in student populations will naturally occur. School districts across Florida are struggling to keep up with the rapid growth in the number of children enrolling in public education, and to solve the problem of struggling infrastructure, many districts are allocating taxpayer funds to the construction of new campuses.
In Polk County, Florida, the Polk County Public School (PCPS) Board is currently overseeing the construction of two new schools, Scenic Terrace K-8 and Elementary 21-C. As the two schools near completion, the school board’s attention turns to some of the items that will fill those campuses: curriculum and media center collections.
Recently at a board meeting, the PCPS Board members were presented with two library collections, consisting of over 34,000 books, for approval at the meeting as a consent item. Consent items are placed on agendas with the understanding that they do not require discussion or explanation prior to a vote and are most likely non-controversial. With Florida placing a heavy focus on parental rights and protecting students from harmful materials within school walls, it would stand to reason that school boards would be very intentional about the selection process and materials that they are voting on. While reviewing the agenda after it was available to the public, Polk County Citizens Defending Freedom (CCDF-Polk) immediately sent out a request to the citizens of Polk for volunteers who could help comb through the extensive list and review the content provided. Additionally, an email was sent to all Board members requesting that the approval of the books be delayed until the community has reviewed the list, as a one-week notice would not suffice. Board Chair, Sara Beth Wyatt, responded stating that “all materials were either in current selections or have been individually vetted by the professional media specialists on our team for appropriateness.” Given the history of the highly publicized situation surrounding the appropriateness of content that has been discovered in PCPS libraries, it should come as no surprise that CCDF-Polk took great concern with that statement.
After only a few minutes of reviewing the book list for Scenic Terrace, several alarming books involving the principles of Critical Race Theory, which has been banned in public schools in Florida, were uncovered. Stamped (For Kids): Racism, Antiracism, and You; and Rise Up! How You Can Join the Fight Against White Supremacy are just two of the books that were uncovered. Stamped is co-authored by Ibram X. Kendi, an outspoken advocate of Black Lives Matter, the defund the police movement, and author of several books including Antiracist Baby and How to Be an Antiracist. Rise Up’s author Dr. Crystal Flemming, is a proponent of Critical Race Theory and describes herself as a “Critical Race Sociologist” on her website. If these books are, as Mrs. Wyatt stated, already “either in current selections or have been individually vetted by the professional media specialists on our team for appropriateness,” then it would appear as though the PCPS district is in dire need of a thorough review of the materials in use in their library collections, as well as training for their “professional media specialists” on how to adhere to Florida Statutes.
A motion to approve the list of over 34,000 books was made by Dr. William Allen of District 1, however the motion was not seconded, and died on the floor. This respite will give time for members of CCDF-Polk and local citizens to review the list and inform parents of the kind of materials being curated for school library shelves, before coming before the Board second time for a vote. In the event the books are approved, parents and citizens of Polk County will have until January of 2024 to file a petition and challenge the books.
Image taken from Rise Up