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Alachua County School Board votes to keep children’s book about gender identity on the shelves

Crystal Marull, 44, speaks at the podium during citizen input. "My position has always been we follow the state standards for what is acceptable," said Marull, who had challenged the Terwilling Elementary's library availability of the book "It Feels Good to be Yourself." (Ashley Rodriguez/WUFT News)

The Alachua County School Board on Tuesday unanimously voted to keep a book discussing gender identity on the shelves at Terwilliger Elementary. This final decision by the board comes after a parent challenged the book “It Feels Good to be Yourself” by Theresa Thorn.

University of Florida Professor and UF Online Spanish Program Coordinator Crystal Marull, 44, challenged the book, stating in a Feb. 15 hearing that, “The material is not suited to the students’ needs and their ability to comprehend material.” Additionally, she said, “The material is inappropriate for the grade level and age group for which it is used.”

The non-fiction book discussed topics like gender identity and sexual orientation in simple terms, with an emphasis on acceptance.

One quote from the book reads: “You might feel like a boy. You might feel like a girl. You might feel like both boy and girl — or like neither. You might feel like your gender changes from day to day or year to year.”

Florida law restricts classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in Florida public schools. Staff Attorney for the Superintendent Susan Seigle provided evidence at the hearing that the book was not being used for instruction, was not on a reading list and was not ever read to students in the library, suggesting the district was complying with the law.

Additionally, the book does not describe or depict any sexually explicit material, such as any mention of genitalia or sexual conduct.

Based on the hearing, Superintendent Shane Andrew recommended the book remain at the Terwilliger Elementary School library.

Tensions ran high at the meeting after the unanimous decision, with some residents upset that they did not have the chance to provide public comment before the board made a final decision. Marull was among those who spoke, saying that she had wished to have 10 minutes to speak for public comment.

“There was inappropriate passing of this in vote without the public comment,” Marull said.

School Board Attorney David Delaney addresses the board to clarify that Crystal Marull will be given three minutes to speak for citizen input. "Madam Chair, at this point we could start the timer and give Dr. Marull her three minutes, if she is willing to take it," Delaney said. (Ashley Rodriguez/WUFT News)

Chair Diyonne McGraw addressed Marull’s request, saying that the board had since passed the motion allowing for public comment, and McGraw said Marull had not been present at that time. Board Attorney David Delaney said Marull would still be able to speak for three minutes during the citizen input portion of the meeting. Marull ultimately used the allotted time to say her concerns.

“The books I’ve challenged are not appropriate without parental guidance,” Marull said. “That is it. That is why I’ve challenged them.”

Another Alachua County resident, Sadie Matteucci, is an environmental science teacher at Gainesville High School and told the board that previously challenged books and book bans send a message to students that not everyone is accepted.

“This is harmful to our students’ well-being,” Matteucci said. “Freedom of education is a fundamental right that is being stripped away from them.”

Sadie Matteucci, 24, listens while Crystal Marull, 44, speaks to the board during the citizen input portion of the meeting. (Ashley Rodriguez/WUFT News)

After citizen input, Board Member Sarah Rockwell directed questions to Delaney to clarify that the statute prohibiting instruction of gender identity and sexual orientation in classrooms was being followed. Delaney said keeping the book on shelves and allowing kids access to them would not go against any Florida statutes.

Seigle also clarified to the board and citizens the recent guideline changes to keep or remove books from shelves, saying that a final decision to keep or remove a book would be brought to the school board, where the public could provide commentary. Seigle said previously removed books fell under an old procedure that did not come to the board for a final review or allow for public commentary.

Ashley is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing