STUART, Fla. — The topic of book bans brought out parents, educators and advocates to the Martin County School Board meeting Tuesday night.
"I think it's horrible and for parents that are saying, 'Well, you can just take kid to the library or buy books yourself,' but we have over 300 kids that live in cars that go to our public schools," said Elizabeth Bernstein, who is opposing book bans.
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HB 1467 is the law that promotes transparency and parental rights, allowing parents to know what reading materials are available and object to them if they don't feel the material is appropriate, leading to books being removed from school shelves.
Through March 9, a total of 92 book titles had been removed in the school district shelves, though some were simply reconsidered for different age groups.
The crowds of people overflowed into the lobby, as time to speak at the podium was cut from three minutes to one minute.
"People took time off of work, they got babysitters, they got off work early, they spent hours preparing comments to speak on the subject and they were told when they got here that they have a minute," said parent Carol Saake. "I've been in this board room until 9, 10 o'clock at night on a number of occasions and I've never been told we are going to limit you to a one-minute speech."
The school board said the shortened time was an effort to give everyone a chance to speak in the hour allotted for public speaking.
"Your mission statement reads to educate all students for success. How are you really doing that?" asked Alisia Harriel, representing Faith Florida Treasure Coast. "Let's be diverse, let's be inclusive and let's show equity as it relates to our schools, our kids and also our books, as well."
She said some of the books were about LGBTQ+ issues and race, and she said she wants more parental involvement when deciding if a book is to be removed.
"My concern is that they're removing the education. Kids will not be able to know who they really are, where they come from, if they're not being educated in the school where they spend a majority of their time," Harriel said. "I hope that they replace these books. I hope that they give the teachers that leverage to say, 'You can have these books in your school in your classroom. You can also use these materials to teach our kids to love on each other, to welcome each other, the race despite their color, despite the texture of their hair.'"
Also in attendance were people in support of certain books being removed.
"I just have an issue, where I've seen in my 36 years of teaching, more and more books have shock value and shocking sexual issues that don't need to be in a book," said Paul Marcucci, who said he supports books that promote inclusivity, but he opposes literature he said contained sexually explicit passages not appropriate for some ages.
"I have a nephew that's gay. I lost a child in New York to suicide because of identity issues, so I'm very sensitive to the topic, and I feel that students should feel safe and know that their value is important," Marcucci said. "But I have an issue with books that go overboard with sexually graphic material or extreme profanity, and I think every parent should decide for their child."
Some common ground was that people feel the process of removing books needs to be reworked and said there is currently no appeals process if a book is removed.
"We rely on what happens in Tallahassee at its highest level to be in place there and we trust that procedure. We trust that policy to be in the best interest of children and youngsters," Marcucci said. "If it fails at that level and it comes down to the local school boards, then we have to have a system where the community can work together to decide which books have merit and which books, perhaps, would be best suited in a public library as opposed to a school library."
After hearing from speakers for almost two hours, the Martin County School Board didn't take any action to return any books or reconsider their removal.