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At its next meeting on Tuesday, the Brevard County School Board will be voting on policies regarding the removal of contested books from school libraries, the restraint of children with disabilities, and changes to the board’s controversial public speaking policy.
With debates over mask policies and other COVID-19 restrictions having largely faded to the background, the board will tackle two issues that have begun to dominate meetings – allegations that the district is providing inappropriate materials on sex and race to minors, and conflict between the school board and its audience.
Critics have accused the board of using its current speaking policy to silence opposing voices, and conservative group Moms for Liberty has launched an effort to remove several library books containing graphic content.
Here’s breakdown of what’s at stake when the board votes.
School library review
The School Board will vote on a policy that would allow the BPS to review and remove library books on a district-wide level. Currently, formal complaints about library books must come from a parent of a child from each individual school, and each school must form a review committee to examine any book that is flagged.
That practice would be too cumbersome to handle a recent request by the Brevard chapter of Moms for Liberty to remove 19 books from all BPS libraries, officials say
Under the new policy, formal requests to remove books can go through a review at the district level or at an individual school. Which route the request takes would be largely based on whether the parent wants the books removed from multiple school libraries, but the district would make the call, School Board Chair Misty Belford said.
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The 19 contested books have undergone an informal review process, and some schools have chosen to remove the books from their libraries, Belford said. Most of the books came under scrutiny for including graphic sexual content or sexually explicit illustrations.
Moms for Liberty has not yet requested a formal review process. The new library book policy will come into effect immediately if the board votes in favor. It would allow Moms for Liberty to officially demand pulling remaining books from all district library shelves Tuesday night.
District officials have warned that even under the new process, it may take a year or more for BPS to review the works. They would have to convene committees, including citizen representatives for each school board member and district experts such as teachers and media specialists, who then must be given adequate time to fully read the materials.
Public speaking guidelines revisited
The board will again vote on whether to alter its public speaking policies, which have been the cause of significant conflict between citizens and the board. The current policy gives speakers addressing the board on non-agenda items only one minute to speak and pushes their speaking time to the end of the meeting.
Those changes were made Oct. 25 to control often rowdy public speaking periods that sometimes extended meetings by several hours during the pandemic. Originally, all speakers were allotted three minutes.
Under a new proposed policy, all speakers will address the board for an equal amount of time determined by a sliding scale according to how many people sign up to address the board before the meeting. If there are 10 public speakers or less, each speaker shall have 3 minutes to address the Board. If there are 11 to 20 public speakers, each speaker will have 2 minutes. In the case of 21 or more speakers, each speaker will have 1 minute.
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Because people not addressing agenda items receive less time to speak, arguments have frequently broken out between Belford and citizens about how long they should be allowed to speak whether their comments related to agenda item.
Some of these disagreements ended in Belford cutting the podium mic or asking security to escort a public speaker out of the room, though speakers have always left the podium voluntarily after that statement.
Belford said she hopes the board will not have to amend the policy again soon.
“We’ve been trying to find the happy spot,” she said. “And so we’ll try these new changes to it and see how that goes for a while, and if necessary, then we’ll revisit it.”
Restraint of students with disabilities
Another policy on Tuesday’s agenda would ban using mechanical restraints on students with disabilities to comply with state laws.
The changes are in response to legislation passed this spring that increased protections for children with disabilities. Children with disabilities cannot be confined with mechanical restraints, the new policy states. Any restraint must be in the best interest of the student and the learning environment.
Restraints may only be used “in emergency situations when an imminent risk of serious injury or death to the student or others exists” according to the legislation. Other possible interventions must be exhausted first.
Mechanical restraints are devices that “restrict a student’s freedom of movement.”
Belford said it has not been the practice of the school district to use mechanical restraints. The law does not apply to school resource officers, who Belford says follow a different set of guidelines
Bailey Gallion is the education reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Gallion at 321-242-3786 or firstname.lastname@example.org.