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I Went to the Pinellas County School Board Meeting to Argue Against Banning Books

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at USF chapter.

This January, the Pinellas County School Board announced that they were removing a number of books, including Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, from all schools because it contained content they deemed unacceptable. A common characteristic between the titles school boards have been choosing to remove from their libraries is that they tell the stories of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. Heart-wrenchingly honest, groundbreaking, and technically stellar pieces of literature are being censored by the school board, which is further isolating the youth of St. Petersburg and all of Florida — which as of 2023, according to World Population Review, is the second state with the most banned books with 566, just behind Texas with 801— from learning about real-world experiences and the diverse population of people in this Earth, nation, and state. On Tuesday, February 28th, the Pinellas County School Board held an open-to-public meeting to listen to the concerns of the county; Dr. Hallock and Dr. Armstrong of USFSP, two of my peers, and I all attended to say our piece against the actions of the school board and this was my experience.

It was Tuesday, February 28th when we all made the drive to the cold conference hall and sat amongst teachers, students, and other passionate members of the community. I urgently implore all of you to take the time out of your day one week and attend a meeting in order to actively be a part of a change for something you believe in; the power of your own voice cannot be overstated. I heavily emphasize “take the time out of your day”, because it must be said that these meetings are long. Finish-that-assignment-you’ve-been-putting-off-for-weeks-long, get-well-into-a-Hunger-Games-movie-marathon-long, we had taken our seats around 5:30 and didn’t speak until 9:50. Once the meeting is open to the floor, everyone gets an uninterrupted three minutes to address the school board.

Hours had passed but I wasn’t able to calm my racing heart as I’d rarely done anything like this before. I’ve only lived in St. Petersburg for seven months since starting at USF so I was still very unfamiliar with the community and the county, but what I wasn’t unfamiliar with in the slightest was literature and the impact these books have had on my life, as I explained to Lisa N. Crane, the Chairperson of the PCSB, and the district members. Less than a year ago I was taking the AP Literature exam, the last AP exam I would take before graduation, and when the time came to answer the free response, the list of books provided for us to pull from contained the aforementioned titles, The Awakening and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. At that moment, I felt so grateful that my AP Literature teacher had taught The Awakening to us earlier in the year and that I was able to read, break down the text, and ask questions in a safe and uninhibited environment.

  The fact that my high school provided me the opportunity to delve into iconic pieces of literature has benefitted me not only personally, but financially and scholarly as well. The AP Literature exam and my SAT have undeniably played one of the largest factors in my college acceptances, transferable credits, and scholarship money rewards. The content within these books serves to make the reader a much more knowledgeable and open-minded individual while strengthening their analytical skills and vocabulary, all aspects one needs in order to succeed at the collegiate level. For the Pinellas County School Board to take away these vital texts is putting students at a majorly unfair disadvantage, especially because this censorship is affecting public schools, so their privately taught peers will have yet another advantage over them for no valid reason.

From first to twelfth grade, students spend the majority of their lives at school. The library is there to give them easy and free access to educational and riveting books that will benefit them academically forever and shape their worldview. For school boards to take advantage of the environment and the influence they have over children is outrightly disgusting and objectionable. Books written by women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community deserve to be read and taught and if parents and administrators alike are so concerned over their children reading about topics that aren’t strictly straight and white then the problem comes from within.

Lily Barmoha (she/her) is a university student who is currently studying English and Creative Writing, as she has been doing at her performing arts middle and high school for the past seven years. She loves reading new fiction and classic literature, listening to music and going to concerts, and going to the movies. She especially loves writing reviews about pop culture events and hopes to one day work at an established arts and fashion magazine or start her own one day!