Jim Tagget
Jim Tagget

The Polk County School Board on Tuesday delayed approving the purchase of 37,000 books for the libraries of two new elementary schools that are being built after conservative citizens complained that they did not have enough time to review all of the books before the scheduled vote.

Purchasing new books for schools has for decades been a routine procedure with little discussion or note. School district staff members normally review the books before purchase.

School Board policy allows residents 30 days to complain to a school if they find books objectionable. The books are for Scenic Terrace, being built in Haines City, and a school that for now is named School 21-C, being built between Winter Haven and Lake Wales. They have no administrators, teachers or librarians yet.

Glynnda White, a member of the conservative Winter Haven 9-12 group, a military veteran and an attendee outside of the Capitol building during the Jan. 6 insurrection, said the sudden drops of tens of thousands of books without citizen review is a problem.

“I understand that media (library) personnel have reviewed all this information … I question in what time period they could have done that? It’s virtually impossible for citizens to review this gigantic list and put together petitions in 30 days,” White said. “A group of 100 people would have to review 370 books each. This is ridiculous. And I believe it’s a ploy toward citizen efforts to keep schools safe for kids.”

She continued that the list provided is not searchable for repetition of books or authors and that the system used by media center/library personnel was not publicly disclosed.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of these books are acceptable for the ages and grade levels for which they’re intended,” White said. “However, by law, the public has to have adequate time to review materials before adoption. I’m not sure what y’all consider adequate time to review 37,000 books. In a review of approximately 1,000 books, so far, we’ve already identified books that are questionable and need further review. I’m asking you please table this decision until January or February and give us time to look through the books.”

She did not name the books they found problematic.

Pam Luce, who made a brief run for the School Board before dropping out, told board members that this was an opportunity for them to build trust with some members of the community following a decision earlier this year by Superintendent Frederick Heid, with guidance from the School Board, not to implement an opt-in-only process for 16 books that members of Winter Haven 9-12 and County Citizens Defending Freedom found objectionable.  The district has had an opt-out policy in place for decades, which requires parents to go to the list of all library books available at their child’s school and check off individual books they don’t want their child reading.

County Citizens Defending Freedom filed an appeal regarding that, but district officials have not responded to them with any decision.



“You’re asking us to trust that, if you adopt these books tonight, we should trust that you will follow the process you spoke of,” Luce said. “Well, an appeal was filed in September to a process that you had in place for the prior book decision. And there’s been absolutely no response from anyone. So why would we trust that you would follow this other process that is coming up now after these books are adopted? You are responsible for what goes in those libraries. It says so in statute — you’re responsible. We want to help you. We want to help you find and be sure that everything that’s going in those libraries are what are good for our children. Please table this.”

Heid said Wednesday afternoon that CCDF submitted a request to appeal the decision to use opt-out.

“It was sent to Mr. Bridges, as he would need to determine if such an option even exists,” Heid said, referring to School Board attorney Wes Bridges. Bridges did not answer a request for information about the appeal. 

Emmett Purvis said he and others had spent hours reviewing some of the books.

“I’d just like to ask you to hold on, give us time to finish reviewing these books, because we want you to be as concerned as we are of what’s going on in the classroom and the libraries,” Purvis said.

Jim Taggett, wearing a baseball cap supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and a T-shirt showing crossed muskets with the phrase “This we’ll defend,” described himself as a Polk County resident, taxpayer and voter.

“We would like to know just what you are doing, okay,” Taggett said. “We would like you to put some real thought and time and study into your vote on these books, okay, not pass that decision along to your leader. There are some countries that do that, and you wouldn’t want to live in one of those countries.”

Taggett said the district has known for a long time that these schools were being built and would need to be furnished with books, so why wait until the last minute to buy them?

“Rushing these books through looks suspicious. There may be books that we find unsuitable for young children and we have to identify those,” Taggett said. “Its sloppy bookkeeping, it’s poor planning, it kind of smells a little suspicious to me.”

School Board Chairwoman Sara Beth Wyatt then asked Heid to explain the book complaint policy to the public.

“The book process and the statute is quite explicit,” Heid said. “There is no process to remediate or amend the book list prior to the procurement. The statute is explicit in that it allows the petitioner to request the review for potential removal and or exclusion of a material post adoption. The same is true for curriculum materials, whether it’s a classroom or whether library materials, there’s a 30 day time period in which that can take place and then the statute goes on to explain that the school district must act within 30 days subsequent to that petitioner filing their request for review.”

Heid said the books have been reviewed by his staff.

“Our media specialist team has spent a considerable amount of time addressing and adopting these books,” Heid said. “They have reviewed them. All of the books fall within the parameters of the statute. In addition to which, all of the books that they reviewed are grade- and age-level appropriate. There are a handful of books that are included in certain grade levels. However, those are aligned to the BEST standards, which as you know, are provided to us by the state of Florida and so they are on the Florida Department of Education’s reading list. So there is nothing inappropriate in these materials.”

Following the conclusion of public comment and votes on other issues, School Board member William Allen made a motion to approve the books.  None of the four other School Board members in attendance – Chairwoman Wyatt, Lori Cunningham, Justin Sharpless or Rick Nolte — seconded the motion and so it was tabled. Kay Fields was out sick and Lisa Miller had a family medical issue.

Heid said on Wednesday that the issue will be brought up again after the holidays.

“These will be addressed again in January, as they require board approval,” Heid said. 

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Kimberly C. Moore

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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1 Comment

  1. After the garbage-book debacle we just went through recently, I’m glad these folks stood up and spoke to stop this. Because it’s obvious we can’t trust PCSB to protect children from filth.

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