Pinellas Schools Remove Book by Award-Winning Author Toni Morrison
Pinellas County high school students no longer have access to Toni Morrison’s first book, The Bluest Eye, in their classrooms or libraries.
School district officials announced Tuesday that they had pulled the name from circulation after an investigation stemming from a parent complaint at Palm Harbor University.
“We (the new state) are erring on the side of caution with the language of instruction,” Superintendent Dan Evans told school board members during a policy discussion on library book selection and controversial material challenges.
The new training, approved by the State Board of Education a week ago, calls on schools to check all library books, including classroom books, for topics that are “harmful to minors.” He urged officials to “err on the side of caution,” and advised them to look at what other districts are doing and look at group materials with reviews.
Some districts, such as Manatee County, have closed classroom libraries for children while they conduct title checks. Others, like Clay County, have withdrawn titles from circulation pending official reviews after receiving invitations from parents or community members.
Evans told the school board that administrators have the “right and duty” to routinely review materials, with or without formal complaints. They’ve done that several times, he said, citing as an example a summer initiative to review the suitability of about 100 books.
This action resulted in the removal of 10 books from student access.
In Morrison’s 1970 novel The Bluest Eye, the author tells the story of an African-American girl growing up after the Great Depression. On the book’s 50th anniversary in 2020, the New Yorker said the work “blazed a new path through the American literary landscape by placing young black girls at the center of the story.”
It was part of a body of work that won Morrison the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature and dozens of other awards, including the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Beloved.
“The Bluest Eye” has been removed from the shelves of many communities over the years and has been on the perennial list of the American Library Association as one of the 100 most banned and questionable books.
Pinellas school officials looked into “Blue Eyes” after one parent, Michelle Still, objected to it being included in her child’s advanced literature course in Palm Harbor.
In a video posted on YouTube, Still, who teaches at a private Christian school, said she was “shocked that any adult would subject 15-year-olds to such a frank description of illegal activities.” In emails to board members, he sent pages describing sexual acts, including pedophilia.
She said in the video that she wanted to remove any of her seven children from public schools, calling them “Marxist indoctrination camps.”
Evans told the school board that after Still complained about the book, the principal told him to meet with the teacher and a media specialist to discuss the content. He said that they will consider the book as a whole and its general literary value. The book was not included in the district curriculum.
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The principal decided to remove the book from the classroom despite previously warning parents about the book’s sensitivity and offering an alternative book for the assignment. After the principal consulted with the district, district leaders asked all schools to remove the book, Evans said.
The news was met with praise by district critics like conservative blogger David Happe, who thanked the board for listening to the public. Others argue that state parental rights laws are weaponized against certain groups.
“The other parent should not infringe on my parental rights,” parent Barbara Mellen told the board. “Please stop removing materials from schools.”
As they discussed the policy on approved books and controversial materials, some board members expressed discomfort, saying the state had put them in a difficult position. Board member Caprice Edmond lamented that the state’s concepts for assessing materials are unclear and subject to interpretation, creating challenges for teachers.
Board Chairwoman Lisa Kane said until the state changes the law, “we will continue to fight these kinds of decisions.”
Board member Stephanie Meyer said she hasn’t seen a problem with counties enforcing the law. Students are minors, he said, and schools must protect them from inappropriate material.
Books are not banned, he said, just not in schools.
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