More than 100 books featuring themes related to LGBTQ+ issues or race now have warning labels in a southwest Florida school district.
Both physical and online copies of books in Collier County Public Schools now have warnings, NBC News reports.
A label purportedly on a book in the school system was shared on Twitter by PEN America, a nonprofit that focuses on the right to freedom of expression.
"This Advisory Notice shall serve to inform you that this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students," the label states. "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."
Some of the books now carrying a warning label include I Am Jazz by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel, Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, and Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, according to PEN America. In a breakdown of the books, the group found that 46 had LGBTQ+ characters or themes, 16 with trans themes, and 34 with main or secondary characters that were from communities of color.
Stephana Ferrell, the co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, which fights censorship in Florida schools, told NBC News that a school district media specialist shared photos of the labels with her in June.
Ferrell told the outlet that she received a call from Elizabeth Alves, associate superintendent of teaching and learning for Collier County Public Schools, following her submission of public records requests that focused on the labels, the books being challenged, and the committee that reviews educational materials for the district.
Alves told her that the district began adding the labels in February, according to Ferrell.
She said that the associate superintendent told her that the labels were added following a discussion with the Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative group that published a "Porn in Schools Report" last year.
The group's report listed books "that promote gender identity and same-sex marriage" and titles containing "indecent and offensive material," NBC News reports.
The warnings were a "compromise" Alves said, according to Ferrell.
Collier County Public Schools spokesperson Chad Oliver offered a different take of what happened, saying the warnings were not added after speaking with the Florida Citizens Alliance.
"Based upon advice from the General Counsel, we placed advisory notices on books about which parents and community members had expressed concern and in accordance with the recently passed Parents' Bill of Rights Law (HB 241)," Oliver wrote in an email to NBC News.
The law Oliver referred to is most commonly known as the state's "don't say gay" law.
PEN America condemned the addition of the labels on the books dealing with race and LGBTQ+ lives.
"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 labeling of these books risks attaching a stigma to the topics they cover and the books themselves," Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America said in a release. "Under the guise of 'parental rights,' interest groups have been empowered by opportunistic elected officials and are now hijacking public schools. Every child deserves the right to learn from a diverse set of voices and perspectives, and to freely access the books they wish to read.
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