opinion | This PTA Mom Is Suing Her School District for Banning the Books
Bright-red Escambia County, Fla. Lindsey Deretsky, a PTA member in the U.S., knows that being a public face in the fight against book banning can make her life difficult, but she has made peace with it. “I don’t want my business to suffer,” the optometrist and mother of elementary school-age girls told me. “I don’t want my kids to be bullied.” He worries that his family may be in danger. “But if this is what’s happening, I’ll tell everyone about it. I’m not one to keep my mouth shut.”
Durtschi is part of a groundbreaking lawsuit filed Wednesday against the Escambia County School District and the Escambia County School Board for their widespread school library censorship. In addition to Dirteschi and another parent from Escambia County, the plaintiffs include the free expression organization PEN America, Penguin Random House and a group of authors of children’s and young adult books. The suit seeks to declare Escambia’s book bans unconstitutional for targeting specific viewpoints and violating students’ rights to receive information. Given the book ban frenzy we’re now seeing across the country—the Washington Post reported that in many states, librarians can be sent to prison for giving children the wrong books—the result will have national implications.
The local school board’s actions, said Suzanne Nosel, head of PEN America, “are a symbolic and glaring example of the pattern we’ve been documenting across the country as far as book removals and specific narratives involving people There is a matter of targeting of writers and stories of color and LGBTQ.
What I find most fascinating about the trial is how national and state-level political dynamics empower the most fanatical members of a community to impose their will on everyone else.
Much of the impetus for the book ban in Escambia came from one person – a high school English teacher named Vicki Baggett. Last May, Baggett went after “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” a young adult coming-of-age novel published in 1999 that high school students could choose to read for a class assignment. She cited, among other things, the book’s “extremely sexual details”. But a school panel voted 4 to 3 to uphold the book, so Baggett appealed to an assistant superintendent. The assistant superintendent convened another committee, on which Durutschi was. That committee also voted to give students the option of reading the book, so Baggett went to the school board. (Baggett did not respond to an email seeking comment. A spokeswoman for the district previously told The New York Times it could not comment on pending litigation.)
Meanwhile, Baggett expanded her crusade, compiling a list of 116 books she wanted removed from school libraries, including “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut, “The House of Spirits” by Isabel Allende, and “The House of Spirits” by Isabel Allende. , “Draw Me A”. star by Eric Carle, author of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, as it features a picture of a naked man and woman. The black sprinter famous for winning gold in the Olympics wrote “When Wilma Rudolph Played Basketball”, a book about overcoming polio played,” listed for details on the racism Rudolph faced as a child in segregated Tennessee. Baggett, who told journalist Judd Legum she is a member of the neo-federalist group Daughters of the Confederacy, wrote on the book accused of “race-baiting”.
According to the lawsuit, Baggett found an ally in then-school board president Kevin Adams. Adams told a local news site that he had asked the superintendent to “quarantine or remove from circulation” the challenged books, short-circuiting the review process. This appears to have gone against the advice of the school board’s own general counsel, who issued a statement at the time saying that while the board has the power to remove the books, “it cannot do so simply because It disagrees with the message of a book.Or it offends a person’s personal morals.
Nevertheless, the books were kept in a restricted section of the libraries and could only be accessed with parental permission, pending review by committees formed to appraise each title. Eventually, this policy was changed so only books alleged to be harmful to minors or in violation of parental rights in the Education Act—often referred to as the Don’t Say Gay law—were singled out. Known – was separated. But that was still a lot of books: Even if the law was written to enforce that on classroom instruction, the presence of gay or trans characters was enough to have a work removed from a library. One book pulled from elementary school shelves was “And Tango Makes Three”, a picture book based on the true story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who raised a chick together, which was adopted by one of Diretsky’s daughters. One in particular enjoyed it. The board eventually voted to remove it permanently.
Dirtsky doesn’t blame Baguette for what’s happening at her children’s school. “The person who is to blame for this is Ron DeSantis,” he told me. After all, it is DeSantis who has made the war on awareness, especially in schools, central to his political agenda.
“Today I was probably five feet away from Governor DeSantis, who made it very clear to me how he feels about some of these things,” Adams said at a school board meeting. “I wondered why so many students had mental health issues and disciplinary problems, bad disciplinary problems. I believe they are poisoned by what they hear and read.”
DeSantis has taken a legitimate concern over student welfare in the wake of the pandemic and turned it into a spiraling moral panic. “Now these voices — you know, the Daughters of the Confederacy, Mothers for Liberty” — a right-wing women’s group that banned the book nationwide — “they’re now given license to bring their hate into the mainstream, Deretsky said.
Dretsky, who grew up in an evangelical household and attended a Christian college, said she doesn’t want to “devalue” the feelings of people who may be concerned about what kids are doing at school. But he is also angry about what his own children are learning now. “We’re going to teach you how to tie a tourniquet in the case of an active shooter, but how can they not know that a man and a woman can’t be the only option for a marriage license?” she said incredulously. He added, “I’m okay with hating me for going against it.”
At a meeting the day before the lawsuit was filed, the Escambia County School Board voted to abruptly dismiss the district’s superintendent, Tim Smith, because, acting on the advice of the school board’s general counsel, he prohibited the removal of books. Had put Before Smith left, he offered the board some farewell. “Something is bad here,” he said. “There is something poisonous that exists here.” And it doesn’t exist only in Escambia, which is why this lawsuit matters.