Why we reported this story the way we did
This news article covers the Alachua County Public Schools’ removal of an LGBTQ title from the Eastside High School library. 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.
The article also noted that the school district, despite its own efforts, had been unable to confirm that Lauren DePaola, the complainant, was a resident of Alachua County, as required under the district’s own rules for such challenges, and our reporting separately failed to show conclusively that she met that requirement, which made public information about her an important element of this coverage.
The news that Ms. DePaola 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 removed another LGBTQ title from its libraries this week, despite issues about the complaint’s validity due to questions whether the woman who challenged the book was legally a resident of the county.
It was the second title the district removed since taking a nonfiction novel about transgender and gender-fluid teens off its shelves two months ago.
“Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe was removed from Eastside High because of sexually explicit content.
The graphic novel was published in 2019 and reflects on Kobabe’s journey discovering sexual and gender identities.
The book includes references to masturbation and sex, including a scene about one of Kobabe’s fantasies with illustrations of two naked males engaging in sexual relations.
“For years my standard method of masturbation was stuffing a sock into the front of my pants and manipulating the bulge,” the author wrote.
Citing a state statute, Lauren DePaola, 42, who challenged the book, said the title is inappropriate.
“It has graphic child pornography images in it,” she wrote in a text Wednesday.
The committee at Eastside consisted of principal Leroy Williams, media specialists Marianne McKey and Tammy Meyers, faculty member Lamonica Davis, guidance counselor Jeffrey Rant and parent John Alexander.
Only McKey spoke on the material from “Gender Queer,” citing new changes to the state’s definition of sexual conduct which took effect in July that change the title’s legal standing in school libraries today.
Under Florida law, it’s illegal for any classroom material to depict or describe sexual conduct, including sexual intercourse, abuse or masturbation.
“From the perspective of the media specialists here, we acknowledge that given the revisions to the law, this text does include sexual conduct,” she said. “If the law was not revised to include these specific definitions of sexual conduct, we would not move to remove this book.”
It is unclear how individual committee members voted Wednesday, but the book was removed by a majority vote.
The district did not immediately respond to a request for more information under Florida’s public records law.
Under the district’s rules, anyone who challenges a book must have been a resident of Alachua County for the past year. During the complaint process that started last month, the district found inconsistencies over DePaola’s residency.
DePaola submitted the address of a post office box instead of a street address, school district spokesperson Jackie Johnson said. When the principal asked her to provide a street address, she gave the address of a vacant lot, Johnson said.
Asked about the address, DePaola said she had made a typographical error and provided the address for a home in Alachua County that she does not own.
In two widely used measures that determine a person’s legal residency, DePaola has not filed for a homestead exemption in Alachua County, and she provided an address in Gilchrist County on her Florida voter registration. Records showed she voted in person on Election Day in Gilchrist County on Nov. 8 last year.
For at least the past five years, she has paid for state fishing and wildlife licenses and listed her address as a home in Alachua owned by her and her husband until April 2022 when they sold it for $545,000, according to property records. For a March 2023 speeding ticket she received on a road in Gilchrist County, she told the trooper her address was a post office box number in Alachua County. The ticket was adjudicated in Gilchrist County after she paid a $118.50 fine and in May attended driving school.
DePaola’s husband, John, is listed in property records as the owner of 5 acres northwest of Gainesville’s airport but does not claim a homestead exemption on that property. The couple bought two plots of land and a mobile home along the Suwannee River for $225,000 in Gilchrist County in April 2022 but also did not claim a homestead exemption there, either.
DePaola is a registered Republican and the owner of a perinatal mental health clinic in Alachua — a reason the district cites her as a county citizen.
“Our assumption is that the information that she has provided is accurate,” Johnson said. “She has a business in Alachua, and we’re just not in a position to investigate exactly whether or not somebody lives at an address that they provide to us.”
DePaola said her primary residence was in Alachua but declined this week to provide information to confirm her status as a county citizen under the district’s rules.
If DePaola is later confirmed to have not been an Alachua County resident for the past year, meaning the book was illegally challenged, it would not be the first time the school district tackled legal matters in its new circumstance of addressing book complaints.
Before “Gender Queer,” “Beyond Magenta” was the first book removed from schools in the district since Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law legislation that halts conversations of gender and sexual identity in Florida classrooms.
Parent Crystal Marull challenged “Beyond Magenta” Sept. 15., along with three other titles that week.
When the library advisory committees reviewed Marull’s four challenges Sept. 27, Johnson said it did not happen during a public meeting, violating state law.
“Our staff attorney who had just started didn’t realize the problem until afterwards,” she said. Johnson said the sides agreed to waive the requirement of a public meeting at the first evaluation of the book.
Marull, 44, has since challenged four other titles. A registered Republican, Marull is a University of Florida professor and coordinator of the online Spanish program at UF, who has a master’s degree in education.
Marull, who made the complaints as a parent, not in her capacity as a university professor, declined to discuss her challenges Monday.
Prior to Wednesday’s vote, the book was only available at Eastside High. It can still be borrowed from the county’s public library system in both a print and downloadable version, according to the district library’s catalog.
While parents are able to block their child from accessing a book, district media specialist Patty Duval said no one ever has. The recent challenges were the first formal complaints filed in the district.
“We’re not one of those districts that’s going to pull 300 books at a time,” Duval said.
When someone objects to a book, their complaint goes to a library advisory committee at the school where the book was challenged. The committee, which consists of a media specialist, guidance counselor, administrator, faculty member and parent, reads over the material and may partake in a discussion about the title’s content before voting. Members aren’t required to share any thoughts on the book or verbally announce their vote.
If the challenger disagrees with the committee, they can move their complaint to a district library advisory committee, which follows the same procedures as the committees at the school level.
If the challenger disagrees with the district committee, they can take their complaint to the school board level.
The district will continue to evaluate the remaining challenges, all of which are currently from Marull.
The district library advisory committee voted Tuesday to keep three of the books she objected to on library shelves: “Being Transgender (Living Proud! Growing Up LGBTQ)”, “Understanding Sexual Identity: A Book for Gay and Lesbian Teens and Their Friends” and “A For Activist.”
At the school level, a committee at Terwilliger Elementary voted last week to keep “It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity” by Theresa Thorn. At Gainesville High, Duval said the meeting for Marull’s challenge on “Thirteen Reasons Why” last week was inconclusive after three committee members did not vote, because they said they didn’t understand the legal definition of sexual conduct.
With no majority vote, Duval said “Thirteen Reasons Why” will advance to the district level. She also said Marull requested the challenge for “It Feels Good to Be Yourself” to be addressed at the district level.
Duval said Marull recently challenged “Melissa” by Alex Gino at Terwilliger Elementary and “Tricks” by Ellen Hopkins at Gainesville High.
As of Wednesday night, the district has not scheduled the new meetings for Marull’s challenges.