CCDF Appeals Polk Schools’ Policy on Checking Out 16 Contested Library Books

County Citizens Defending Freedom has filed an appeal to Superintendent Frederick Heid’s decision to provide parents with only an opt-out process regarding 16 library books group members have complained are obscene, pornographic, age-inappropriate, or indoctrinate students.

At the last School Board meeting, “I promised we would follow all legal avenues to protect the children. Within a week, I started dropping off 106 criminal complaint letters at sheriff’s offices all over town,” CCDF-USA Polk County Executive Director Robert Goodman told School Board members at the end of Tuesday night’s School Board meeting. “Those were not directed at teachers. Those were not directed at librarians. They were directed at this board because you made the decision, though it was not in plain sight, you made the decision to not protect the children.”

Some of the books contain passages that are sexually explicit and include incest, rape and, in one case, bestiality. Others include stories about transgender children or teenage romance among same-gender couples, while Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison’s books graphically describe slavery and Jim Crow laws.

See a list of the books and how many times they have been checked out here or at the end of this article.

Four out of seven School Board members voiced their preference at a May 10 meeting to keep in place the opt-out process that has been used for decades. That would mean the 16 books would remain in the libraries in which they were found, on shelves accessible to the students at those schools. Parents can log into the PCPS parent portal during two specified periods each year to opt their children out of being able to check out those or any other books they specify.

An opt-in process would see the books kept behind librarians’ desks and available only to children whose parents had consented to allow access to those specific books.

When CCDF originally filed its official complaint in January, saying librarians were distributing obscene materials to minors — a third-degree felony — Heid immediately removed the books from libraries to protect librarians from felony charges.  The complaints provided to Heid were copies of complaints from Florida Citizens Alliance, which is coordinating statewide efforts to remove dozens of books from library shelves group members deemed pornographic.

The 16 books in Polk County were reviewed between March and May by three dozen members of the community, including English teachers, psychologists, guidance counselors, parents, members of the NAACP and LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, students and two CCDF members. The members were divided into two committees and each committee reviewed half the books. The committees voted to keep all of the books on library shelves at age-appropriate levels.

Before reaching out to Heid in November 2021, CCDF members talked with Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. He referred them to Heid, but also suggested to Heid that he institute an opt-in process and keep the books in question out of the hands of children unless their parents consented. Judd was furious when he returned from vacation in August and found out that Heid, at the direction of the majority of School Board members, chose to remain with the decades-old opt-out process.

Judd wrote a letter to School Board members last week, which was shared with reporters on Wednesday.

“I would be remiss if I did not point out how frustrated I am by still being involved in this predicament, because you chose not to put in place a simple ‘opt-in/opt-out’ solution, giving control to the parents, which I recommended to you and Superintendent Heid,” Judd wrote.  “Had that route been taken, we could’ve subdued the additional, unnecessary political angst that has been forced upon us all.”

On Tuesday night, CCDF Elections Director Sarah Calamunci read a letter that Judd had sent to 70 CCDF members and copied to School Board members and Heid:

“I cannot, in my wildest imagination, understand why the School Board members would want an environment where the government provides, at taxpayers’ expense, such material to students, really just children whose brains have not fully developed,” Judd wrote. “However, it is painfully obvious that, despite the horribleness of the text, which I believe at a bare minimum grooms children and desensitizes the young mind, while exposing them to deviant conduct, the materials presented don’t rise to the level of investigation and prosecution under the obscenity laws of the state of Florida. Simply put, everything that is pornographic and/or perverted is not criminally illegal under the very technical Florida obscenity law.”

Judd also wrote that he had met with State Attorney Brian Haas and Assistant State Attorney Brad Copley, who he said both agreed with his assessment about the nature of the books and also the books’ “failure to meet the high standard for prosecution under current legislative and case law, even though we all are mortified by what we read.” Copley became a prosecutorial expert in obscenity laws as he and Judd worked closely from the late 1970s through the early 1990s to close down strip clubs and adult book, magazine and movie stores. 

“If there was a criminal charge, we would hold those individuals accountable according to law,” wrote Judd, who said he has read the offending passages from some of the books, but has not read any of the books in their entirety.

Judd then advised that “there are other paths the citizens of Polk County can consider to keep this reprehensible content from being exposed to children by the Polk County School Board:

“1. Request the School Board revote on the recommendation I proposed, and Superintendent Heid agreed.

“2. Seek civil recourse and request the courts issue an injunction against the Polk County School Board.

“3. Seek law changes through the Florida Legislature, including:

  • Creating a ratings system, similar to movies and video games
  • Stopping the availability to students under 18 without the expressed, written approval of the child’s parent or guardian”

And finally Judd said, people could vote for School Board members who “share your values and the will of the majority of the Polk County community.”

CCDF’s Goodman told School Board members Tuesday evening that “the community at large is on our side of the argument, even with the amount of false information coming from this board and the teachers union … At the last School Board meeting, board member Lisa Miller said if we weren’t careful trying to ban books we were gonna wind up getting the Bible banned.”

Miller was referring to the Keller Independent School District in Texas, which handled complaints throughout the 2021-2022 school year about dozens of books conservative groups said contained sexually explicit content. Some of those books are ones PCPS has reviewed, including Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” which depicts a drunken father’s rape and impregnation of his 11-year-old daughter.  In response, another group complained that the Bible contains inappropriate material. Now the school district has removed for review all books complained about, including the Bible and “The Diary of Ann Frank”.  

Miller asked School Board Chairwoman Sara Beth Wyatt if she could make a statement since Goodman addressed her.  Over the objection of School Board member William Allen, Wyatt allowed Miller to address Goodman.  She told him that removing books from libraries is a “slippery slope” and could include texts CCDF wants children to read.

“No one on this board is trying to harm children. We have a policy in place and that’s what I was explaining,” she said.  “So when the gentleman drove to the Haines City’s Police Department, he could have gone two more miles down the road to Haines City High School, that has the only copy of the body picture book (‘It’s Perfectly Normal’) that people are offended by. He could’ve taken one parent to that one high school, held a meeting and had the book reviewed. There is policy in place. The disinformation that this is not in place already is what’s upsetting.”

She has said several times that she wants to work with CCDF to create a book-rating system.

“And what I’m saying, as a person of faith and a parent of an 11 year old, we have to be careful and we have to create policy,” Miller said. “That’s all I was asking. So thank you for coming.”

When CCDF’s Goodman finished his remarks Tuesday evening, he handed the group’s legal appeal to School Board attorney Wes Bridges. The appeal states:

“With removal of the opt-in process, and without review of the proper standard, the board has made available material in the school library that is prohibited under (Florida Statute) 847.012, which requires that such material is discontinued for any grade level or age group for which such use is inappropriate or unsuitable.  As a result, removal of the opt-in process enables a wide range of grade levels and ages access without parental consent, without due care and consideration of a student’s ability to comprehend the material presented, or whether it is inappropriate for the wide range of grade level and age groups in the various Polk County library facilities.”

Stephanie Yocum, who represents PCPS librarians as president of the Polk Education Association, has said CCDF is trying to oppress minority voices. 

“With these titles, these are not taught as classroom novels – they are available for checkout by students,” Yocum said earlier this year. “If you don’t want to have your child read them, you can choose that. Out of one side of their mouth, they want all this parent choice. But with this, they’re choosing for all kids, not just their own.”

Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning reporter and a Lakeland native.  She can be reached at [email protected] or 863-272-9250.