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Local first.

Plenty of people around the country – politicians, news anchors, your uncle at Thanksgiving – are talking about book bans. 

We’re a local news-focused outlet, so we’re not going to talk about what’s going on in regard to national politics and book bans; there are plenty of other places you can go to find out what’s going on with book bans in the United States. Instead, we’ll focus on what is happening right here in Okaloosa County. 

At this time – the Okaloosa County School District has “updated their policies, and they are currently under legal review,” according to Okaloosa County School District Public Information Officer Catherine Card. 

Where does Okaloosa County School District get its books?

There are two facets to this question, I think. Namely, ‘Where does Okaloosa County School District get its textbooks’ and ‘Where does Okaloosa County School District get its library books or other media?’ We’ll go one at a time for the sake of clarity.

Okaloosa County School District Logo
Okaloosa County School District Logo

Okaloosa County School district textbooks

Okaloosa County gets its textbooks from big textbook suppliers pre-approved by the Florida State Department of Education. Nationwide textbook printers, like McGraw Hill and others, make textbooks for every subject that is taught in high schools and compete with one another to get their books into school districts around the country – and ours is no exception. 

Okaloosa County gets its textbooks from big textbook suppliers pre-approved by the Florida State Department of Education. Nationwide textbook printers, like McGraw Hill and others, make textbooks for every subject that is taught in high schools and compete with one another to get their books into school districts around the country – and ours is no exception. 

The school district, according to their policy, undertakes a four-step process when it comes to selecting textbooks. 

In step one – the district, like most bureaucracies of this size, will set up a committee to determine which textbooks are the best ones for students using them to learn in Okaloosa County Schools. In this case, they set up a committee made up of educators and teachers that reviews textbook excerpts for elementary, middle and high schoolers. Each school gets a representative on its respective committee. It’s a process that means getting teachers and parents onto the committee, then having them grade the potential textbooks for use. There’s a lot more to it – which you can find in the PDF in this story – but that’s the basic way this starts.

After a voting process by the teachers on the books they could possibly teach from (another long process) the recommendations of the voters go back to the School Board for a public hearing. The materials get placed on the Okaloosa County School District website for review. If there is a challenge to the textbook up for review, the district holds a hearing at which a third party referee is charged with hearing all of the evidence and making a decision. At the end of this byzantine process, the board ultimately votes on the textbooks and either moves them forward or rejects them. 

Once the decision is made, parents can request copies of the textbooks for review – so long as they pay the school for them. 

Long story short – teachers, parents and third party arbiters recommend the books they think would be best to use, but the buck stops with the Okaloosa County School Board on what textbooks will enter into the classrooms. 

If you look at some school board agendas (like the one from the second meeting in May), you will see public hearing notices and meetings to discuss and adopt those textbooks. I’ve never seen a textbook voted down by the school board. 

Okaloosa Textbook Adoption Procedures 2023

Okaloosa County School District library books

The other area where a challenge would likely come from is the books on the shelves of the Okaloosa County School District’s nearly 40 libraries. These books come from a list of “approved vendors” that sell books as collections. In short, the district doesn’t buy each of their books individually; they go to a bulk bookseller and say, “We need so many books for a library” The bookseller then sells the district or the library the requisite number of books.

The School District uses policy 03-03 to regulate books and media centers. You can read that policy, which is attached to this article, if you are a glutton for punishment. 

In short, the policy outlines a 20-point list of requirements for a library book to make it on the shelf. Some of the screening guidelines include the following:

  • “Intellectual content and its presentation: the knowledge contained in the work and how the author arranges the knowledge.”
  • “Appropriateness of content to users: The materials are suitable for the students for which they are intended.”
  • “Accuracy of information: Non-fiction information is correct, recent, and objective.”
  • “Durability of information: The material has a timeless or popular appeal.”
  • “A view toward a balanced collection: All genres and a variety of viewpoints are represented.”
  • “Profanity: The fact that profanity appears in the media materials does not automatically disqualify a selection. Care shall be given to excluding media material using profanity in a lewd or detrimental manner, or that is inappropriate for the age level of the students using the media center.”
  • “Sex: pornographic, sensational, or titillating materials shall not be included; however, the fact of sexual incidents appearing in the media material does not automatically disqualify it if such material is not determined to be ‘harmful to minors as defined in Florida State Statute 847.001(6). Materials harmful to minors means any reproduction, imitation, characterization, description, exhibition, presentation, or representation, of whatever form, depicting nudity, sexual conduct, or sexual excitement when it:
    • Predominately appeals to a prurient, shameful, or morbid interest;
    • It is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material for minors; and 
    • Taken as a whole, is without serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value to minors.”

Okaloosa County Schools Superintendent Marcus Chambers said, “The District is following best practices regarding cataloging books and education materials maintained by media specialists or assistants. Our policies coincide with Florida State Statute to ensure curriculum transparency and trust that our teachers and staff value the integrity of our libraries to offer educational material appropriate to every grade level,” in a statement made available to Mid Bay News. 

School Board Operational Policies for Okaloosa District School Media Centers

How many books have Okaloosa County School District Banned from its shelves?

Currently, none of the 442,126 books available in the Okaloosa County School District’s libraries have been banned, according to a records request the district responded to in relation to this story. This information is current as of June 26th, 2023.

Additionally, Card reports no books on Okaloosa School’s library shelves are being challenged as of the writing of this story.

What is the procedure for banning a book in the Okaloosa County School District?

The school district has outlined the “Procedure for Handling Criticism of Library Books or Educational Material.” the procedure, adopted in 2000 and last revised in 2021, has a four-step process to deal with critique for books on shelves or material used in classrooms. 

Upon a written request, the school district must provide access to any book or material used in the classroom, held in the library, or included on a reading list. 

A parent of a student or a resident of Okaloosa County may contest the use of any book or educational material used by the district. Objections should be submitted via form MIS 1007 to the principal of the school involved. The form has to be submitted by the petitioner, including the required contact information, and state the evidence for the objection to the use of the material or book based on the guidelines provided in Florida State Statute 1006.28(s)(a) and (b)

After a review by the principal and a school-based committee – the principal submits the material, the evidence presented to the committee, and the recommendations from the committee to another committee that is made up of a school board member, a superintendent’s representative, a curriculum specialist with oversight of media specialists, a teacher and an Average Joe (the policy says ‘layperson’). 

After a “careful review of the material, the evidence provided by the petitioner, and the recommendation of the District Educational Materials Review Committee, final recommendations will be forwarded on to the Superintendent, who will forward the recommendation to Okaloosa County School Board. 

The school board will then be responsible for explaining in a public hearing the material’s status. 

Who's in charge of maintaining and curating the libraries' books in Okaloosa County

In short, that is the job of the media assistant. People like Florida Finalist for Support Staff Member of the Year Shawna Crist (Plew Elementary) are in charge of the libraries at school. You can see their job description here. 

Those media assistants have a total of 20 “essential job duties,” which include:

  1. Processes new books when needed. 
  2. Maintains files as requested. 
  3. Assumes the role of media specialist if required. 

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