Florida’s Collier County Public Schools district has added advisory labels to over 100 books, many of which focus on themes such as LGBTQ2S+ and racial equality. The list includes classics like Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Beloved by Toni Morrison and I am Jazz by Jazz Jennings.
According to NBC News, the warnings appear on both physical and online copies of the books in Destiny, the district’s database.
“This Advisory Notice shall serve to inform you that this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students. This book will also be identified in the Destiny system with the same notation. The decision as to whether this book is suitable or unsuitable shall be the decision of the parent(s) who has the right to oversee his/her child’s education consistent with state law.”
This change comes on the heels of anti-LGBTQ2S+ legislation being signed in the state. In March, Republican governor Ron DeSantis signed a law dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, forbidding instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade.
Earlier this April, the American Library Association reported over 700 challenges nationwide to materials in 2021. This marked the most requests for removal the organization had seen since it began collecting records. The majority of the requests targeted Black or LGBTQ2S+ authors or content.
In July, the Miami-Dade County Public Schools (the largest school board in the state) tried to ban sexual education textbooks altogether, potentially depriving Floridian children of a sexual education curriculum. This decision was quickly reversed.
The rise in animosity toward these publications has some, like Jonathan Friedman, worried that advisory labels are only the beginning, and that it is only a matter of time before the books are outright banned.
Friedman is the director of free expression and education programs at PEN America, and has tracked a worrisome increase in book bans in the past nine months. Upon discovering the advisory labels, he issued a press release on behalf of PEN America.
“This alarming development is just the latest in an onslaught of attacks against students’ freedom to read in Florida. Even if access to these books is not technically restricted, the labelling of these books risks attaching a stigma to the topics they cover and the books themselves,” the statement reads. “Under the guise of ‘parental rights,’ interest groups have been empowered by opportunistic elected officials and are now hijacking public schools.”
Collier County district has not revealed who, specifically, is complaining about the books, but last year conservative nonprofit Florida Citizens Alliance released a Porn in Schools Report featuring a series of titles labelled as either “sexually explicit” or “promoting gender self-identification and same-sex marriage”—effectively equating LGBTQ2S+ books with porn.
Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, responsible for fighting censorship in Florida schools, made a public records request for the labels to find out who was responsible for requesting the advisory labels.
Ferrell told NBC News that Elizabeth Alves, associate superintendent of teaching and learning for Collier County Public Schools, had reached out to her to confirm that the labels had been added in February following a conversation with the Florida Citizens Alliance. Alves said the advisory labels were a “compromise,” according to Ferrell.
A spokesperson for Collier County Public Schools, Chad Oliver, had an alternate account of what led to the labels, instead saying that the school district put them in place as a result of legislation contained in the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Whatever the cause, the concerns of those who believe that advisory labels will lead to book bans are not unfounded. This year, Florida’s Department of Education rejected dozens of math textbooks because they purportedly contained lessons on critical race theory.
A full list of the books labelled with an advisory can be found here.