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The Roar

The Student news source for West Shore Junior/Senior High School

The Roar

The Student news source for West Shore Junior/Senior High School

The Roar

Students hold rally against book banning at Brevard school board meeting

Brevard Students for Change and Youth Action Fund collaborated in planning the rally on Feb. 6 at the Brevard Public School’s district building. “It really shows a sense of community and how important this issue is to have every single level of individuals coming out,” Sharma said.

Senior Anjani Sharma stepped up to the microphone outside of Brevard Public Schools’ district building to protest book banning on Feb. 6. In front of her stood a crowd of nearly 200 supporting her cause. Currently, there are three banned books from all BPS libraries.

“It really shows a sense of community and how important this issue is to have every single level of individuals coming out: every single race, every single gender, all ages and so many ethnicities,” Sharma said. “We have powerful, diverse voices that create a mosaic of voices. It’s so important that students from all different high schools in Brevard County get involved. The public comments especially showed that we have a voice. We are not coming after Brevard School Board members — we are holding them accountable.”

Working with Youth Action Fund, Sharma began planning the rally against book bans in December. Youth Action Fund is a nonprofit organization that supports young activists throughout Florida and helps them create change in their communities.

“Youth Action Fund was like, ‘If you feel something about this, you need to see if you want to do something,’” Sharma said. “After researching over Winter Break, I saw that there were so many problems with academic censorship, from Advanced Placement Psychology to book bans. My friends from Satellite High School and Cocoa Beach Junior/Senior High School also thought this was a huge problem. We needed to bring together students to speak up, so we made an Instagram account called Brevard Students for Change to get people and have our first rally.”

Julie Bywater, the Brevard County chapter chair of Moms for Liberty, gave a public comment to the school board, saying “We can’t just ever not discuss books.” Moms for Liberty, a nonprofit conservative organization focused on defending parental rights “at all levels of government,” was founded in Brevard in 2021 and has challenged at least 41 books since June 2022. According to its co-founder Tina Descovich, and former Brevard County school member, Moms for Liberty has spread to 310 chapters with 130,000 members nationally.

“As much as I admire the students who spoke out tonight, they’re still students,” Bywater said. “Adults are picking your books and they’re picking your curriculum. Students are being guided, taught and led by adults — you’re just not adults yet. There are going to be tough decisions that are made for you by your parents, adults and teachers, and sometimes it means that there are books in the library that you’re not going to read.”

Cameron Driggers, a freshman at the University of Florida and the founder and executive director of Youth Action Fund, attended the rally.

“We decided that we’re going to help facilitate this and provide support to make sure that students of Brevard make their voice heard and directly confront their school board,” he said. “This is crazy book banning nonsense and culture war hysteria. We turn campaigns on their heads, students come to us with their ideas and we work with them to make them happen.”

Driggers, who graduated from Flagler Palm Coast High School last year, held a similar rally during his junior year, passing out banned books and having student speakers. Following Driggers’ rally, he and other students launched a summer-long campaign to replace Flagler County school board members Jill Woolbright and Janet McDonald.

“It was actually after our school board member filed police reports on our librarians for having books in libraries,” he said. “Even in (Gov.) Ron DeSantis’ own backyard — a very conservative area — we were able to unseat both of those incumbent school members and replace them with a lot more reasonable folks. We’re seeing [book banning] again here in Brevard County. [Students are] saying ‘We’ve had enough, we’re going to fight for education and we’re going to fight for our right to learn freely without censorship in books.’”

Bywater said that as a mom and as a parent, she has the right to “direct the upbringing of her child,” which encompasses “their education, their health and all aspects of their moral upbringing.” She is a mother of four children: two are in high school, while two have graduated.

“Even teenagers aren’t adults yet, they’re still children and they need to be directed by their parents first and foremost,” Bywater said. “[The school board should be focusing on] education and parental rights, it shouldn’t be that complicated. I’m happy to talk to people one on one to find out where we agree, which is where we should always start.”

Sharma said parental rights should not impact all students.

“I hate to say it, but these moms are not in our schools,” Sharma said. “Parental rights should exist only for your own child. I’m the child, so if my mom doesn’t want me to read a book, I respect her because she knows what’s best for me. But if she was to censor someone else, that’s not right because they don’t know what that person can handle, what that person needs or what that person needs to know.”

Bywater said “If we focus on books, we’ve lost sight of what matters.”

“I know the audience is really upset about book banning, but the reality is we should be talking about all of the things that are important,” Bywater said. “If you don’t like a book ban, challenge it and go through the process. But let’s get back to education. Let’s look at the budget for our entire school district and make sure the money is being spent wisely. We should be looking at all of the curriculum and the discipline policies. This isn’t about division; it’s about coming together and making this the best school district in the country.”

While Sharma agrees there are important matters to discuss, she said book banning should take precedence.

“I also advocate for mental health, and I want to see more funding for specific programs like journalism and speech and debate,” Sharma said. “But we can’t do that when there is a literal attack on public education. Moms for Liberty’s influence on public schools has really progressed this movement. It’s not just about academic censorship, it’s the fact that there is a conservative group influencing public schools and students’ voices are being sidelined by that.”

Bywater said students can purchase books that have been removed from schools at stores such as Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million.

“If your parents want you to read that book, they will help you get that book,” Bywater said. “There are no books being banned, that phrase gets used a lot, but it is used incorrectly. Books can be purchased, published and checked out of a public library. Each library in every school across the country is a cultivated collection. You cultivate the collection to be age appropriate and educationally appropriate to be in a public-school library. You’ve had so many books that are in your school library that were already picked.”

Sharma argues that books should not be limited to only those who can afford it.

“In Brevard County especially, there’s just a huge socioeconomic divide,” Sharma said. “Sometimes public school is the only thing that students have for them going on, from food to the books they read in the library. How about the kids who can’t go to Barnes & Noble? They don’t have the transportation needs or the funds. It’s expensive to buy books. Education is something that we should all have, and these books teach so many important concepts. We are advocating because public schools are a lifeline for so many.”

Despite the rally, the school board held a 4-1 vote to remove “Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah Mass from BPS schools because of sexual content.

“I didn’t read that book, so to comment I would like to research more,” Sharma said. “I think any book that’s being banned needs to be banned for a really legitimate reason. We need to have racial stories, because it sets the scene for us to understand history. Sexually explicit material isn’t pornography, it is what happens in everyday life. Why not face these topics where you’re able to have collaborative discussions with your teacher and your classmates?”

Hannah Burger, a senior at Cocoa Beach Junior/Senior High School speaking at the rally, discussed two of Brevard’s banned books, “Milk and Honey” and “The Sun and Her Flowers” by Rupi Kaur. The books explore “sexual assault and violence experienced by a young woman,” Kaur said on an Instagram post.

“They both have had a major impact on how I healed from some traumas in my life,” Burger said. “[They provide] comfort knowing I wasn’t the only one going through the subjects discussed in those books and how to move on and heal. I discovered ‘Milk and Honey’ at a very dark place in my life, and I’m happy I did. Sexual assault and sexuality are very common for teenagers to deal with on a day-to-day basis.”

While Burger acknowledges that some books should not be in schools, she said book banning “is ultimately a witch hunt.”

“Parents or certain organizations are claiming there is some sort of indoctrination in schools when there is not,” Burger said. “As a student in the public school system, I can say that teachers don’t care enough to push their own opinions. Librarians just want to provide an array of books that contain opinions of all different sides on topics that need to be discussed. [Two months ago] school board member Gene Trent ridiculously proposed banning 298 books. All these books are doing is offering another perspective that certain school board members don’t want us to learn.”

Driggers said everyone should weigh how the decisions around them are made and consider the problems in their community.

“Don’t ever stop,” he said. “Understand that those things are not just permanent fixtures of society, they’re things that are being molded and influenced. It really starts right in places like this, your school board. They actually affect your life way more than the president of the United States does. If you want to make a better world around you, it has to start locally.”

Sharma wants to see grassroots improvement through Brevard Students for Change.

“We want to mentor students to speak at board meetings, city council meetings and to their school principals,” Sharma said. “This started locally and is only going to get bigger. I started it, sure, but now it’s a thing for all students who feel passionate.”

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About the Contributor
Ella Dorfman
Ella Dorfman, Editor in Chief
Hi, I’m Ella! This is my third year on staff. I am so excited to carry on the torch this year and to continue to grow as a journalist. My favorite stories to cover are news and features.