"Assassination Classroom" has been objected to, reviewed and returned to three PCPS libraries. An appeal has been filed.

A Lakeland woman has filed an objection to a Japanese illustrated book series found in three Polk County high schools, including Tenoroc High in Lakeland, saying the books contain “abject violence” and are “inappropriate.”

A recent addition to a state statute could take her objection to Tallahassee and the Florida Department of Education in coming weeks.

The series is called “Assassination Classroom” by Yusei Matsui and tells the story of Koro Sensei, an extremely powerful octopus-like being working as a junior high homeroom teacher. He has told his students, who are considered misfits, that he will destroy the world by March.

The students are taught assassination techniques by the P.E. teacher and they are sworn to kill Koro Sensei to prevent Earth from being destroyed. The manga series has also been made into a movie and video game.

An illustration from the series “Assassination Classroom,” showing a child trying to stab a teacher. A Lakeland resident objected to the books, which have been reviewed and returned to three PCPS libraries. An appeal has been filed.

Yvonne Stagg, 71, wrote on a Polk County Public Schools “Request for Examination of Library Materials” form in April that she found out about the books from national news.  Her complaint is specifically about Volumes 1 and 2 out of the 21-volume series. She lists multiple pages that contain “abject violence.”

Illustrations show a student trying to stab Koro Sensei, an attempted assassination by three men using guns, and Koro Sensei ogling one student, who was sent into the school to kill him.

Stagg did not respond to a phone call or email, asking if she has a child or grandchild in a Polk County school, if she has read the books and if she is affiliated with any groups like Moms for Liberty or County Citizens Defending Freedom, which is now called Citizens Defending Freedom. Both groups have been vocal throughout the country in objecting to books they call “pornographic” or inappropriate.

Last year, CDF objected to 16 books in various Polk County school libraries.  The district formed two committees consisting of parents, teachers, counselors, students and CCDF members, which met over multiple weeks.  All the books were approved to be returned to schools at age-appropriate levels.

In addition to Tenoroc, the “Assassination Classroom” books are found in the libraries of Mulberry Senior High and Gause Academy in Bartow, according to PCPS spokesman Kyle Kennedy.

Kennedy said the school committees met to review each “Assassination Classroom” book, and all voted to retain the books.

“I don’t really understand why people are complaining about it, to be honest … Their teacher is an alien that’s going to destroy the world and the teacher is an octopus. That’s just goofy.”

Emma Matzen, Lakeland Public Library Student Intern

“An appeal has since been filed, and in accordance with our process per state law, a committee will be formed and a district review will be conducted once the school year resumes,” Kennedy wrote in an email to LkldNow in late June.

Complaint will test new law allowing appeals to a state magistrate

Until last month, school districts in Florida had the final say on book challenges. But during the recent legislative session, lawmakers added a provision to the law governing book objections that allows parents to file an appeal with the Florida commissioner of education if they disagree with the district’s findings. It went into effect on June 30.

“If a parent disagrees with the determination made by the district school board on the objection to the use of a specific material, a parent may request the Commissioner of Education to appoint a special magistrate who is a member of The Florida Bar in good standing and who has at least 5 years’ experience in administrative law,” the statute reads.

“The special magistrate shall determine facts relating to the school district’s determination, consider information provided by the parent and the school district, and render a recommended decision for resolution to the state Board of Education within 30 days after receipt of the request by the parent.”

Following that, the state Board of Education must approve or reject the recommended decision at its next regularly scheduled meeting that is more than seven calendar days and no more than 30 days after the date the recommended decision is transmitted.

The cost of the special magistrate shall be paid by the school district.

An illustration from the series “Assassination Classroom.” A Lakeland resident objected to the books, which have been reviewed and returned to three PCPS libraries. An appeal has been filed.

Stagg’s appeal of the district’s decision regarding “Assassination Classroom” could be the first test of the new process in Polk County.

PCPS Superintendent Frederick Heid said he didn’t want to comment about the matter until he could get some clarification as to “what process the magistrate will follow.”

According to Anime News Network, this is not the first time the series has been objected to in the United States. Gifford Middle School in Indian River County and the Elmbrook School District in Wisconsin removed it following complaints from parents and Citizens Defending Freedom about violence and sexual content and the “sexualization of minors.”

Anime News Network reported that CDF’s National Communications Director Kristen Huber stated: “We should all be able to agree that violence toward teachers and explicit sexual content is not something that schools should be glorifying or promoting, especially on taxpayer dollars.”

Lakeland Public Library student intern Emma Matzen, 21, said all of its copies of Volume 1 were lost. She said she was baffled when told that someone had complained about the book.

“Why? It’s funny,” Matzen said, noting that she had seen the movie, too, in middle school. “I don’t really understand why people are complaining about it, to be honest. I watched the anime and read some of them, too. Their teacher is an alien that’s going to destroy the world and the teacher is an octopus. That’s just goofy.”

State publishes list of 350 grade-appropriate titles

As school districts struggle to navigate controversies over reading materials, the Florida Department of Education has issued a list of 350 books approved for various grade levels. Those books include classics like:

  • “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White for middle and high school.
  • “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis for middle and high school.
  • “The Diary of Anne Frank” for middle and high school.
  • “A Land Remembered” by Patrick Smith for high school.
  • “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry for high school.
  • “Devil in the Grove” by Gilbert King for high school.

King’s Pulitzer-Prize winning book, along with “The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead, “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer and “Manchild in the Promised Land” by Claude Brown, are recommended by the state for rising seniors only.

“The books deal with weighty and adult subject matters and, if movies, would be considered ‘R’ rated,” the FDOE website states. “They have been added to the list because of their profound impact on society and/or for the excellent way they teach students about human nature and the importance of seeking liberty and justice for all.”

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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at kimberly@lkldnow.com or 863-272-9250.

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