Leon County Schools set to keep ‘I am Billie Jean King’ on shelves after parent complaint

LCS pulled five books from high schools in the district earlier this month
Leon County Schools votes to keep Billie Jean King book on shelves
Published: Jul. 24, 2023 at 6:45 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 24, 2023 at 8:57 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Just ahead of its regular school board meeting Tuesday, Leon County School leaders voted unanimously to keep the book “I am Billie Jean King” on school shelves.

In a packed meeting Monday that lasted less than an hour, Vice Chair Rosanne Wood made the motion to accept the hearing officer’s recommendation, which was to keep the book on shelves. The board voted 5-0 in favor.

According to Wood, the book is currently in three schools in the district. Monday’s meeting marked the last step in a process that begin with the district’s first formal complaint in May. At the time, a parent took issue with the book referencing King being married to a woman.

During a meeting on June 27, the parent told the school board that her second grade child brought the book home from school, and later began asking questions about the subject matter.

According to a transcript of that meeting, the parent cited Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill to challenge the book being allowed in elementary schools, and she went on to add “elementary age children lack the developmental and social maturity for the topic of sexual orientation, keeping a book such as I and Billie Jean King and our school libraries.”

Board members and parents who showed up to Monday’s meeting disagreed.

“The theme is not that she’s gay. The theme is about championing equality. And this is so important for our young people to be able to read,” Wood said.

A parent who attended the meeting said that she has a child who will be starting school next year, and she’s happy with the decision. Carrie Gaudio said her 4-year-old will start school next year, and she doesn’t want her child’s reading privileges limited.

“It’s just really important to my family that he has access to all the books when he goes to school,” the parent said.

Another school board member, Laurie Lawson Cox, voted to keep the book in schools, but questioned whether the page discussing sexuality could prompt discussions that might violate state statute.

“A teacher talking about the book in a classroom of first or second or third graders, when they get to that one little section, is that going to cause a discussion that parents are not going to be comfortable with?” she said.

Just last week, Florida’s Board of Education approved new rules to comply with the recent expansion of the Parental Rights in Education law, which critics refer to as ‘Don’t Say Gay.’

Under the new rules, teachers can be suspended or even lose their teaching licenses if they don’t follow the guidelines.

While ‘I am Billie Jean King’ survived the first formal complaint in the district, five other books were pulled from two high schools this month after LCS said reviews determined they did not comply with state standards.

The donated books were located at Lincoln and SAIL high schools, according to a spokesperson, who added their removal is permanent.

While hailing the choice to keep “I am Billie Jean King” in schools, School Board member Marcus Nicolas said retaining diversity in reading materials is essential.

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