A school board member in Florida wants someone to be criminally prosecuted for allowing a young-adult memoir for Black queer boys on school library shelves.
Jill Woolbright, a member of the Flagler County School Board, filed a report with the county’s sheriff’s office last week claiming that having the book “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by author George M. Johnson in the district’s libraries is a crime, according to a copy of the sheriff’s office report obtained by CNN.
Woolbright believes whoever is responsible for allowing the books into the Flagler County Schools district “should be held accountable,” the sheriff’s office report said. CNN has reached out to Woolbright for comment.
The board member’s complaint has led officials to temporarily remove the title and prompted dozens of students to protest in favor of the book on Tuesday. Woolbright’s actions are part of the latest efforts across the nation to ban certain books in schools – a trend that emerged from the critical race theory debate and the panic over how history, race and queer themes are being taught to children. In Texas, Gov. Gregg Abbott has called on the state’s school boards to remove books he described as “pornography” after at least two state lawmakers asked officials to investigate books in schools.
Woolbright’s complaint is currently being reviewed by law enforcement to determine if it has merit or if a criminal investigation is needed under Florida laws, a spokeswoman for the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office told CNN.
“Sheriff (Rick) Staly will ensure the rights of everyone under the Constitution, specifically the First Amendment are protected,” said Melissa Morreale, the sheriff’s office spokeswoman.
The Flagler County School district declined to comment specifically on Woolbright’s actions but said the entire school board was being updated Wednesday on the district’s procedures to challenge materials found in school libraries.
The four copies of “All Boys Aren’t Blue” that were available at two high schools were removed from circulation as well as a copy that had been purchased for a middle school campus, pending the outcome of a review process, said Jason Wheeler, a spokesman for the district.
Flagler County is about 66 miles northeast of Orlando. About 83 percent of its residents are White, followed by nearly 11 percent who are Black, according to data from the Census Bureau.
Cheryl Massaro, another board member, said Woolbright didn’t speak on behalf of the entire school board and “crossed a line” by filing a complaint with law enforcement.
“Ms. Woolbright is advocating for the removal of a number of books from the School District’s media centers based on her perception of their content,” Massaro said in a statement posted on Facebook. “Let me make this abundantly clear - I do not support censorship of these highly acclaimed and award-winning teen books! The beauty of books lies within the eyes of the beholder.”
CNN has reached out to Massaro for comment.
Students don’t want ‘censorship’ in their schools
As the board held a meeting on Tuesday, at least a dozen students along a number of parents and community members held a protests outside the school district’s offices.
“I knew that I had to take action because I’m not going to allow censorship to occur within my school district, and I’m going to fight as hard as I can with other students,” said Jack Petocz, a 17-year-old student at Flagler Palm Coast High School.
Petocz, who organized the protest, said many students believe Johnson’s book and other books that address gender identity should be available at the libraries for students who may not feel seen, don’t have supportive family members or need someone to identify with.
“When I read that book, I identified a lot with Johnson’s struggles, (with) constantly having that conversation brought up as a young kid – are you gay? and the fear of that resonated with it,” Petocz said.
In “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” Johnson details their experiences growing up in New Jersey and Virginia as a Black, queer and non-binary person. The book became a bestseller when it released last year and was named one of the best titles of 2020 by Amazon’s Books Editors.
Johnson, who is working with Gabrielle Union’s production company to develop the book as a series with Sony Pictures TV, said they were not surprised to learn their debut title was being challenged in Florida and several other states in recent months.
“I’m actually shocked it took this long for them to figure out that this book existed,” Johnson told CNN. “I’ve always been prepared for the moment that it was going to be attacked and banned because in America people have an issue with books that tell the truth and my book tells the truth.”
Johnson said they encourage people to read their entire book before making a judgment and warns about considering certain topics as “too heavy” for teens and children.
“Removing books from them doesn’t stop them from having those same experiences. It just stops them from being able to know what to do when those experiences happen to them,” Johnson said.
While Johnson said they respect parents who want to have a say on the books their children read or not, they said parents cannot decide what happens in a public space.
“A library should carry books for those teenagers who have the agency to choose books (by themselves) or for those parents who want their children to read certain books,” Johnson said.
“You don’t get to make that choice for all teenagers, you get to make that choice for your teenager, and your teenager only,” they added.