“Books have the capacity to change lives for the better, and students in particular deserve equitable access to a wide range of perspectives,” remarked Penguin Random House CEO Nihar Malaviya.
“Censorship, in the form of book bans like those enacted by Escambia County, are a direct threat to democracy and our Constitutional rights.”
Durtschi declared that she would urge the general public to hold the school board responsible for its actions as the litigation progresses.
”I would just encourage the general public to keep their eyes peeled on what happens there and not to think that they have no control. The days for writing in and contesting a lot of this legislature are long passed. So, what they need to do now is call the school board,” she said.
PEN America Files Lawsuit Against Florida School District over Unconstitutional Book Bans, PEN America shared a tweet on its official Twitter handle:
“The hope is they’re going to err on the side of their constituents, especially if they have children in the public school system.”
Why Durtschi Is Heading The Escambia County Book Crusade
Durtschi is highly concerned for the children who will never get the chance to see themselves in a story. Personas they can identify with. The dynamics of the family they return to. They have crunches—difficulties they face.
She worries that people may consider their lives and circumstances filthy, scandalous, abnormal, and exceptional. Like all the other novels that fill the library shelves, this one does not merit a significant character.
She is concerned that telling a child a book about an LGBTQ+ relationship is “bad” would influence how they regard actual children and families.
Durtschi is also concerned about what would be taken away if the freedom to read is abandoned without resistance.
“It has become tyrannical,” Durtschi stated. “And it starts here, it starts with people obeying in advance before they are told to do so. And in assuming that those in charge have their best interests at heart, and we know from history, that’s not the case.”
Although she knows she is not alone in how she feels, she also recognizes that people stand to lose a great deal by associating their names with a dispute and putting their own child or their career in danger because of political conflict.
She joined forces with Escambia parent Ann Novakowski, however, when the time came and the nation’s biggest book publisher fought Escambia County School District and its school board over the removal of personally chosen library books.
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“I decided, based on the many months I had spent talking to teachers and other parents that this truly affected but that didn’t feel safe or didn’t feel allowed to speak out on behalf of themselves. I just felt that it was my opportunity to speak out for them,” she says.
“For the most part, I’ve had so much positive feedback from around the nation, you know, people thanking me. Not that it’s me that needs to be thanked. It is obviously the bravery of organizations like PEN America and people that have been, whether it be under persecution for being part of the LGBTQ community or people that have been in marginalized communities. They’ve been dealing with this a lot longer than I have. Even after all of this is finished, whether that ever happens in the near future or not, they’re still going to be left to deal with this.”
Banning Books Beyond Pornography
The primary justification for taking away books is their “exposure to pornography.” However, based on Durtschi’s observations, mainly when serving on the district’s content review committee for the young adult novel “Drama” by Raina Telgemeier, that wasn’t the only thing going on.
Her third-grade kid simply missed that the book she reviewed was accused of LGBTQ “indoctrination” because a guy confessed to having a crush on another male.
“I had already read the book with my third-grader who loves all of Raina Telgemeier’s books, so I didn’t think anything of it. We reread it, we just kind of discussed it together. She didn’t say anything about that one piece. There was no LGBTQ indoctrination. I still have a straight child as far as I know,” she stated.
She listened as others without children shared ideas and beliefs during a community public discussion on the book she and her daughter had read, some of which had no connection to the reader.
She found it unsettling to consider that they were in that predicament due to the viewpoint of a single person who had initially marked the book.
“One parent cannot tell me what my kid can read and what my kid can’t read, and what is and is not appropriate. Because of a lot of things parents do I find incredibly inappropriate. But it’s not my jurisdiction,” Durtschi also said.
“A lot of the people that are wanting these books to be banned — they don’t want their kids and grandkids to know that they were one of the people still throwing stones … the problem is weak people that are afraid of change.”
Where Does The School District Stand Now?
In response to Florida HB 1467, which aims to establish statewide standards and policies governing the content of school library books, the county stopped its book challenge procedure in April.
Since last year, the school board has prohibited six novels while saving four others.
According to Michelle White, the coordinator of media services for Escambia, they are awaiting additional direction from the state on how to move forward. There have been a total of 183 book challenges sent to the district.