Stay up to date on all the latest news from Boston.com
“At the time, there was a law that said a Black person had to give up their seat if a white person needed it. Rosa refused, and she was arrested.”
While the words of Kathleen Connors’ “The Life of Rosa Parks” are no longer available to second grade students in Florida’s Duval County, they are now part of congressional record due to Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern.
McGovern spent over two minutes reading from the book, written for children ages 6 to 9, last Wednesday during a House Rules Committee Meeting, where he serves as a ranking member. The Massachusetts Rep. sought to display the restrictions, which he calls a book ban, that Duval County, and Florida at large, have placed on certain books that focus on race and gender.
But since McGovern’s reading, the county has pushed back on this sentiment, stating that they never explicitly ordered the book to begin with.
Debate surrounding Republicans’ “Parents’ Bill of Rights” bill soon left committee and made its way to the House floor, where it passed by a 213-208 conservative majority Friday morning. The bill, H.R. 5 (118), would seek to grant parents direct influence over school curricula. And while critics of the proposal worry that these restrictions would target materials featuring themes of race and gender, the bill, now headed to a Democratic-held senate, has little chance of becoming law.
Regardless, Democratic lawmakers, including McGovern, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) took the opportunity to display exactly what kinds of books are being removed using similar state legislation, zeroing in on Duval County, which has been subject to several similar state restrictions for roughly a year.
“This bill is going to be weaponized by far-right groups and used to threaten
schools with legal action if they don’t pull books off the shelves. It is going to
force teachers to decide between staying silent and teaching something that
certain politicians in their state don’t like. It is already happening, for God’s
sake,” McGovern said.
“I have a few books that Republicans want to ban — too many to go through now, but let me recite a few. ‘The Life of Rosa Parks.’ ‘Who was Sojourner Truth?’ ‘Biography of Nelson Mandela.’ ‘The Story of Harvey Milk.’ Now, do you notice any pattern here? They want to ban books about Black and Brown people, and they want to ban books about LGBTQI+ people. It is sick. It is hateful. What is wrong with them, Mr. Speaker?” he added.
As a result of Florida’s legislation, specifically House Bill 1467, but also in part due to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill and “Stop WOKE Act,” Duval undertook the process of reviewing all 1.6 million books in school libraries in late January, closing down libraries to check for books’ compliance with state restrictions. Since then, they have approved 10,000 books to return to classrooms.
During this process, the county removed from classrooms for 10 months 179 books purchased in 2021 from publisher Perfection Learning’s “Essential Voices Collection.” The removal of the “diverse, inclusive [collection]” prompted many to call for the books’ return, and the county eventually did bring all but 73 books back onto classroom shelves. Of these 73, the county put 26 in storage for further review — these have since been brought back to classrooms — and returned 47 to publishers.
But Duval and several conservative legislators have pushed back on calling the removal of these 47 books a ban, stating that they never explicitly ordered “The Life of Rosa Parks,” and several other books, in the first place.
Our schools provide students with dozens of titles about the life of Rosa Parks. The book that is the subject of this tweet was never purchased by the district. Facts here: https://t.co/9sN8YXPxzY— DCPS (@DuvalSchools) March 24, 2023
The county says that of the 47 books that were returned to publishers, 14 were sent back to Perfection Learning because they were some of Essential Voices’ substitute titles — books sent by the publisher that are similar, but not the same as those purchased due to selection availability. The county did say that 33 of the books were sent back because they did not meet Duval’s material criteria.
Despite never ordering the book, review records, first reported by Jacksonville Today, show that the county did review “The Life of Rosa Parks” — for four minutes — and rated it highly against the county’s criteria, before sending it back. And the person overseeing the review process, Michelle DiBias, Duval’s supervisor of instructional materials and media services, resigned March 8 for calling gay characters in a removed book “contrary to the design of humanity.”
While these procedural removals provide nuance to the idea of book bans, widely used definitions point out that often, that’s the point: to muddy the waters just enough so that the removal of a book is accepted as standard procedure.
While many have recently pointed out the county offers several other books about Parks, it is worth noting that sometimes these books leave out critical details — like one Florida textbook that excluded mentioning race when discussing Parks.
Of the 33 books that the county removed due to content, several focused on LGBTQIA+ characters, and others, like the Parks biography, on race. Counties throughout Florida have taken similar steps to review and remove books that focus on topics like race and sexuality, despite statements “debunking” the notion of Florida banning books from Florida Gov. Ron Desantis and other Republican lawmakers.
“This is all happening because GOP Governor Ron DeSantis put into place absurd censorship laws aimed at politicizing classrooms and injecting MAGA culture wars into our schools,” McGovern told Boston.com in an email. “According to publicly available records, ‘The Life of Rosa Parks’ — alongside books about Martin Luther King, Jr. and LGBTQ rights — was reviewed and then rejected under the supervision of a book reviewer who has since resigned from that position after her hateful, homophobic remarks became public.
“A book ban is a book ban, no matter what you want to call it,” McGovern wrote.
Stay up to date on all the latest news from Boston.com
Stay up to date with everything Boston. Receive the latest news and breaking updates, straight from our newsroom to your inbox.
This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com