Why we reported this story the way we did
This news article covers the Alachua County Public Schools’ removal of a book about transgender and gender-fluid teens from the libraries at Gainesville High and Hawthorne Middle and High schools. The story explains why the book was removed and describes passages from the book that the district determined run afoul of a Florida law that prohibits classroom material to depict or describe sexual conduct.
We determined that the professional background of the parent who made the challenge – which includes a master’s degree in education – and her description of her own school-age son’s experience with the book about transgender teens made the parent’s identity relevant to readers.
The news that she is a registered Republican who submitted the challenge is relevant because the process in Florida for challenging books in public schools – even in a predominantly Democratic county – has been championed as a conservative cause by Republicans in Tallahassee.
Our news reporting on the subject of people challenging books they believe are inappropriate or illegal for public schools has included newsworthy information about the content of the disputed material, the process for adjudicating such challenges and – whenever it has been relevant – public information about the residents who have initiated these policy discussions by filing formal complaints. When people do newsworthy things, we write about them. Our coverage has been professional and objective, and meets the highest industry standards for informing our readers about important issues in the community.
The Alachua County school district, for the first time, removed a book about transgender and gender-fluid teens from its libraries after a parent challenged it as inappropriate.
It marks the first time a book was challenged or removed from any school in the county since Republicans passed tougher laws regarding educational materials in Florida.
Crystal Marull, 44, of Gainesville complained that the book, “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” by Susan Kuklin, included passages that were sexually explicit. She also challenged four other books.
Marull is a University of Florida professor and coordinator of the online Spanish program at UF, who has a master’s degree in education. A registered Republican, Marull said she made the complaint as a parent, not in her capacity as a university professor.
“My point is not to be antagonistic or to target any type of person or identity or belief system,” Marull said, “but to bring to the attention that schools have books they might not have realized that have explicit or inappropriate content for the ages that are accessing them.”
The book contains passages that describe oral sex and a teen born as a male biologically who considers gender reassignment surgery because the teen wants to become female.
“From six up, I used to kiss other guys in my neighborhood, make out with them, and perform oral sex on them. I liked it. I used to love oral,” the book reads.
Kuklin’s novel was the 10th most banned book in 2021, according to the American Library Association.
The effect of the decision is that students in the county can’t access the book from school classrooms or libraries, but it can still be borrowed from the county’s public library system or purchased online or in bookstores.
The book was previously available at Gainesville High and Hawthorne Middle and High. It had not been used in any classroom lessons, said district media specialist Patty Duval.
Marull learned of the inappropriate content at Gainesville High after her son brought home books he found questionable – “things that made me blush as an adult,” she said.
Marull also challenged “Thirteen Reasons Why,” “Being Transgender (Living Proud! Growing Up LGBTQ)” and “Understanding Sexual Identity: A Book for Gay and Lesbian Teens and Their Friends” because of sexual content. At Terwilliger Elementary, Marull challenged “A For Activism,” because it’s not age appropriate, she said.
“I strongly value the role of the school and educating my students,” she said. “I don’t see the need to put in these controversial types of books when other more academically strong books can come in.”
Kuklin said there are few states where her book hasn’t been removed from schools.
“[The book] will name things,” Kuklin said. “It will use the word vagina; it will use parts of the body, but there’s not anything prurient in that book.”
Though she wasn’t aware her book had been removed in Alachua County, Kuklin said she wasn’t surprised.
“When you ban books like ‘Beyond Magenta,’ where people are being honest and truthful about who they are and what their experiences are, you’re saying they don’t exist,” she said. “And they do exist.”
Following Florida law, each school district develops its own plan to address book challenges. In Alachua County, Duval said each school has a library advisory committee of parents, teachers and sometimes students who conclude whether a challenged book is removed. If the committee determines the book can remain in schools, the parent who challenged the title can address it with a district committee if they wish.
Though the Gainesville High committee disagreed with Marull’s challenge of the book, Principal Daniel Ferguson overrode the decision, saying the book violated state law by depicting sexual conduct.
Under Florida law, it’s illegal for any classroom material to depict or describe sexual conduct, including sexual intercourse, abuse or masturbation. The law was passed by Florida’s conservative Republican-led Legislature and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who made a central platform of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination protecting children in Florida from school materials he said were inappropriate.
After the Gainesville High committee decided two other titles Marull challenged were appropriate, Marull said she plans to take her challenge to the district level.
“The committee has not convened yet to discuss those topics,” Duval said. “They do not contain sexual conduct, and they meet the state-selecting criteria as well.”
The committee at Terwilliger Elementary also disagreed with Marull’s challenge.
Duval said “Thirteen Reasons Why” does violate state standards regarding sexual material. The book is in 27 schools in the county, she said.
Book challenges have been common in conservative parts of Florida. Alachua County is one of only five counties of 67 in Florida that voted Democratic in the 2022 gubernatorial elections. It is home to Florida’s flagship university and the progressive City of Gainesville, where Democrats hold nearly all elected offices.
According to the American Library Association, Banned Books Week is the first week of this month.
This is a breaking news story. Check back for further developments. Contact WUFT News by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing email@example.com.