Osceola County School Board pulls book approval items after heated discussion

Board members voiced concerns about book committee review guidelines

Following a heated discussion about book review guidelines, the Osceola County School Board pulled book approval items from its Tuesday evening agenda.

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – Following a heated discussion about book review guidelines, the Osceola County School Board pulled book approval items from its Tuesday evening agenda.

Four books — “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” “Looking for Alaska,” “Out of Darkness” and “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl” — have undergone a book review process by the district after parents voiced concerns about the content.

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“It was a disgrace. It was pornography,” Joann Colonna, a concerned community member, said. “Photos I was ashamed to be looking at, and they’re in our school libraries for children to see.”

A majority of the district’s book review committee voted to keep all four books in school libraries, providing guidance about which libraries should hold the books in question.

While the district’s school board was set to make the final decision in a vote during their meeting Tuesday evening, some school board members said the review was poorly done.

According to the district media supervisor, there were 15 people on the book review committee by the end of the review process, and more than half of those members were district employees.

“When you have 10 out of 15 employees.... I mean, who’s going to go against their superintendent?” board member Jon Arguello asked.

Arguello criticized the content of the books and questioned whether they were appropriate for schools.

“In a district that is not performing well academically, to have books that aren’t focused on providing people with an opportunity to improve their academic performance is probably not the best use of public funds,” he said.

Board members also questioned the committee’s review process.

“This is not... done very professionally, in my honest opinion,” board member Julius Melendez said. “It has a book it has voted to retain. What is the score sheet? What is your basis of making it retain or not retain?”

The discussion between board members lasted about 30 minutes, at which point board member Robert Bass said the school board should remove the items from the agenda until a workshop could be scheduled to further discuss the review process.

“We’ve been working on all this, and I feel like a couple of the school board members were behind on the ball...” district media specialist Jill Gatlin said. “I think they should’ve come in knowing all that information. The guidelines are out there.”

The board did not release any information about when the workshop would be scheduled to review book approval guidelines, though the board will not discuss the topic at any upcoming meetings until that workshop happens.

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Treasure joined News 6 at the start of 2021, coming to the Sunshine State from Michigan.