FL’s prolific book challengers explain why they do it

TAMPA, Fla. — From a pandemic to politics, from masked mandates to the bill critically dubbed “Don’t Say Gay,” this school year in Florida, student rights and what’s happening in their classrooms have become battles for the history books.

Amid these battles, the books fueled some of the most heated fights.

In data we obtained from dozens of districts that responded to our requests, Florida school districts received, in total, about 300 official library book challenges during the past school year.

Most of the challenges accused the books in question of being too sexually explicit for students. In one, the plaintiff said a book dealing with LGBTQ issues found in a fifth grade senior classroom promoted “social justice propaganda on a religious level.”

In another, the book aimed to “ultimately push homosexuality,” Dale Galiano described in his challenge to the St. Lucie County School District in January.

“I don’t think an 8-year-old needs to know about sodomy, rape and incest,” Galiano said.

Of the 17 book challenges submitted to St. Lucie County schools last year, Galiano was behind each one, records show.

“I am a widow,” said the 69-year-old pensioner. “Why I care is because these children are my future and this is the future of this country.”

Galiano admitted that she had not read all the pages of the 17 books she challenged.

“I read them in part,” she said, adding that she had reviewed the disputed books with three of her friends.

Although it has been widely reported that parents, including many from the conservative group Moms for Liberty, have issued dozens of formal challenges to districts, Galiano is among the prolific challengers who have filed complaints about the books available at school. without having children enrolled in a .

“I think the Lord needs his children to be cared for,” Gailiano said. “I was chosen because I took it seriously.”

According to Galiano, she was also “chosen” after attending a meeting hosted by the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, a conservative nonprofit that believes America’s public education system is failing.

On its website, the group claims Florida children “are indoctrinated into a school system that infringes on their individual rights and destroys the nation’s founding principles and family values.”

Keith Flaugh is co-founder. He and his wife never had children.

Flaugh, who admits he hasn’t read all the books his group has challenged, said he started questioning the age appropriateness of some novels available in school four years ago. He is described as a US Army veteran who worked at IBM for nearly 30 years in marketing and finance.

When the I-Team asked Flaugh if he had any particular expertise that makes him qualified to make decisions about what books are available to students in school libraries, he replied, “I consider myself a constitutional person. “

His group has been another prolific book challenger in Florida. Records show the Florida Citizens’ Alliance has filed formal complaints in at least a dozen districts across the state, including the 16 challenges submitted to the Polk County School District earlier this year. The group used a model form member also submitted to other county districts.

“We are accused of wanting to ban the books,” Flaugh said. “My typical response to that is we don’t want to ban anything, we want to provide a safe environment for our children.”

Despite all the challenges with school books this year, only a fraction led districts to permanently remove books from school libraries.

Still, the challengers have had an impact as more school districts are now adjusting library policies to give parents control over what their children can and cannot access.

In Indian River County, which received the most book challenges of any district in Florida, school leaders let parents choose the level of books their children could access. However, according to a district spokesperson, few parents have taken advantage of the option.

Other districts have apps that let parents see what their child is looking at in the school library, while some districts, including Sarasota, Polk, and Orange County school districts, are revising their library policies for students this summer.

As for the challengers we spoke with, they have no intention of backing down.

“We think we’re waking up parents and giving them tools to get a better education for their kids,” Flaugh said.

“I am here, I stay,” Galiano said.

Starting in July, a new Florida law takes effect that will make it easier for people to challenge books available at school. Critics have expressed concern that the law will cause more challenges next year or leave districts reluctant to make certain books available to students in the first place.

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