Attendees in a crowded chamber room wave cards of support for a speaker during the public comment portion of a meeting of the Seminole County School Board in Sanford on Tuesday evening, September 19, 2023. Many of the speakers were commenting on the subject of book bans. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)
By Robin Dehlinger |
September 24, 2023 at 5:30 a.m.
I was encouraged as I listened to the many individuals who attended the Seminole County Public Schools Board meeting last week to provide their supportive comments against book bans. Parents and residents of the county, along with people from other parts of the state, rallied to support our public schools, teachers, and leaders, as they spoke out. Their remarks were in stark contrast to the organized effort by Moms for Liberty to challenge books they do not like. My hope is that our community will continue to publicly speak in support of our public schools. They recognize a good thing when they see it, and Seminole’s schools consistently rise to the top in the state of Florida and the United States.
The Florida Constitution states the education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the state of Florida and Florida statutes require the opportunity for students to obtain a high-quality education. This is realized by the professionalism and expertise of Seminole’s teachers, and school and district leaders, and evidence of their commitment to helping all students achieve their potential.
Regardless of any narrative suggesting otherwise, parents have always played a critical role in their children’s education, including their right to supervise and monitor their children’s academic and social experiences in public school. The idea that “parental rights” is a new thing is ludicrous.
But no one individual should make decisions about what another person, including students, should read. Parents who do not want their children to have access to a particular book through their school or classroom library can opt out of that access. This has always been the case. However, every parent should have the same freedom to allow their children to access books based on what they deem appropriate for their children.
No one believes that every book, regardless of content, should be available to children. Material that is not appropriate for K-12 students should be carefully evaluated through a transparent process, such as was explained by the director of instructional materials in her presentation at the School Board meeting last week. The process for a parent or resident to challenge materials or books is outlined in policy, as required by Florida statute. School districts should closely follow their board approved policy and not defer to the demands of any one individual or group choosing to operate outside of the policy.
Diverse texts serve an important academic role. With guidance from their teachers, they allow students to engage in conversations that require critical thinking. If age-appropriate books that would expose students to challenging topics are prohibited, students miss opportunities to understand the perspectives of others and to think deeply about ideas that have relevance to their lives. Seminole County Public Schools is known nationally for the achievements of its students. Parents and residents should remain outspoken in support of the school board and superintendent as they continue the work that has made Seminole County Public Schools an A rated school district 22 times.
Robin Dehlinger is the retired assistant superintendent of Seminole County Public Schools.