Jean Moore, seated at left, petitions the St. Johns County School Board to remove four books on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. | Noah Hertz, Jacksonville Today.Jean Moore, seated at left, petitions the St. Johns County School Board to remove four books on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. | Noah Hertz, Jacksonville Today.
Jean Moore, seated at left, petitions the St. Johns County School Board to remove four books on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. | Noah Hertz, Jacksonville Today.

St. Johns restricts schoolbooks, including ‘Slaughterhouse Five’

Published on May 28, 2024 at 4:41 pm

Four books, including one heralded as an American classic, will be harder for students to access at St. Johns County high schools after a previous decision was overruled Tuesday.

The district’s book review committees and St. Johns County Schools Superintendent Tim Forson had previously ruled that Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and three other books could remain accessible to all high school students. But an appeal led the School Board to enact new restrictions. 

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Community member Jean Moore, responsible for 92 of the 114 challenges to books in St. Johns County school libraries since 2021, said the board made an error when it kept books with references to child sex abuse, violence and hate on library shelves.

Moore argues that if a student is too young to go to an R-rated movie, they shouldn’t be able to go to their school library and read explicit materials. Books with references to rape, sex and other “explicit” subjects are a sign of a declining American society, she says.

“It is a foregone conclusion that sex acts, profanity and other adult content doesn’t belong in front of children, let alone in schools, and that adult and mature content is for adults,” Moore told the School Board.

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Moore wanted Slaughterhouse Five; A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Lee Dugard; The Freedom Writers Diary, a 1999 book written by a group of high school students and their teacher; and l8r g8r by Lauren Myracle to be removed from school shelves entirely. The School Board narrowly agreed to keep the books in high schools but make them harder for students to check out.

Slaughterhouse Five and A Stolen Life will now be accessible only by 11th and 12th grade students. The Freedom Writers Diary and l8r g8r will be accessible only by 12th grade students with a signed parent permission form. 

The decision to put fewer restrictions on A Stolen Life was made because the memoir depicts the violent abduction and assault of a young girl, and, board members said, students might need access to relatable subject matter for dire circumstances in their home lives.

Each decision to restrict access to the books was made by a 4-1 vote, with School Board members Beverly Slough, Anthony Coleman, Jennifer Collins and Kelly Barrera forming a majority over dissenter Patrick Canan. 

Speaking in support of restricting access to the books, Barrera cited split decisions made by book reconsideration committees. The new restrictions are appropriate, she said, if media specialists, parents and community members were unable to come to a consensus. 

Canan said he would not be a part of what he called a slippery slope of overruling decisions made by media specialists and other educators.

“We are thumbing our nose, I think, at the people we believe in,” Canan said. “Very, very smart people who aren’t interested in putting just smut on the bookshelves for our students. They’ve thought it through. They’ve gone to school for this.”

After opening arguments from Moore, and the superintendent and other district representatives, the meeting Tuesday opened up to public comment, and responses were split down the middle. 

Roughly half of the speakers argued that sexual content isn’t up for debate as having merit for teenage readers. Some went so far as to call novels like Slaughterhouse Five pornography.

One speaker said that growing up as a kid in the 1940s, the books she read in school kept her insulated from the turmoil in the world.

“My world in the early 1940s was one of innocence,” she said. “Despite living through World War II and being aware through the adults’ conversations in our participations in the war efforts, we felt protected by love from all of the adults in my small world.”

The other half said that kind of a world view was naive. In a state that bans abortions after six weeks, one speaker argued, failing to allow young people access to materials that reflect their lived experiences is wrong. 

Several speakers even asked why the meeting was necessary. Speaker Michelle Jennings said it was “like Groundhog Day,” and middle school substitute teacher Bonnie Wahiba defended the committee’s previous decision. 

Wahiba was a member of the committee that ruled to retain l8r g8r in high school libraries. She said that members of the committee were required to not only read the book, but to read through pages upon pages of analysis and discussion about it, too.

Wahiba argued that inflammatory passages read by Moore from l8r g8r and other texts were cherrypicked to make it seem as if sexual assault, violence and hatred were all that was in the books.

“This objector has not presented any new information than what we had when we considered the book,” she said. “When you go to court and you appeal something, usually you have something to add. She has nothing to add. We went through all of this.” 

Associate Superintendent Dawn Sapp explained to Jacksonville Today that some of Moore’s complaints addressed Tuesday go back as far as 2022. Before a decision can be made about a challenge to a library book, the district must ensure it can attain enough copies for a full committee to read and that it allows enough time for committee members to read the book and additional materials. 

When asked by Jacksonville Today, Moore declined to comment about the School Board’s decision.

For a full list of books removed or restricted in the St. Johns County Schools system, go to the district’s website.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include the exact number of book challenges initiated by Moore since 2021.


author image Reporter Noah Hertz is a Jacksonville Today reporter focusing on St. Johns County. From Central Florida, Noah got his start as an intern at WFSU, Tallahassee’s public radio station, and as a reporter at The Wakulla News. He went on to work for three years as a general assignment reporter and editor for The West Volusia Beacon in his hometown, DeLand.
author image Reporter Noah Hertz is a Jacksonville Today reporter focusing on St. Johns County. From Central Florida, Noah got his start as an intern at WFSU, Tallahassee’s public radio station, and as a reporter at The Wakulla News. He went on to work for three years as a general assignment reporter and editor for The West Volusia Beacon in his hometown, DeLand.

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