POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Community members, parents and students can now apply to be on one of two committees that will review 16 books pulled from school library shelves in Polk County.

The application form can be found online now. The deadline to apply is Feb. 13.

Nearly 100 school staff members had already applied as of Tuesday morning, according to the Polk County Public Schools Superintendent Frederick Heid.

“It’s a very complicated and delicate issue with concerns on both sides,” he said.

Heid made the decision to remove 16 books from the libraries pending review, citing allegations from community members they violated state statutes on harmful material and obscenity.

If the books were deemed to violate law, Heid said, school staff members could be charged.

“Each instance that these books would be checked out constitutes a separate felony charge. That felony charge is not going to rise to my level. I’m not the one checking out those books,” said Heid.

The group that wants the books banned, “County Citizens Defending Freedom,” says the books contained content that is inappropriate for children.

“The books identified by CCDF-USA imprint obscene, violent, pornographic, drug abuse, sexual abuse and suicide-related content upon the minds of minor students,” reads a statement from CCDF posted online.

The group’s spokesperson declined News Channel 8’s request for an interview Tuesday.

Here is the full list of books CCDF wants banned:

  • “Two Boys Kissing” by David Levithan
  • “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini
  • “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher
  • “The Vincent Boys” by Abbi Glines
  • “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie Harris
  • “Real Live Boyfriends” by E. Lockhart
  • “George” by Alex Gino
  • “I am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
  • “Drama” by Raina Telgmeier
  • “Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult
  • “More Happy Than Not” by Adam Silvera
  • “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
  • “The Bluest Eyes” by Toni Morrison
  • “Tricks” by Ellen Hopkins
  • “Almost Perfect” by Brian Katcher

Many of the books involve LGBTQ+ issues.

Heid pointed out during a school board work session Tuesday that many of the books had never been checked out before.

“If these are the most concerning books and they’re not being checked out, is there justification in the argument that somehow these books are exposing students to content that basically flies in the face of family values and other things?” asked Heid.

School board member Sarah Fortney said quarantining the books affects all children.

“It’s kind of unfortunate that these titles are going to be not accessible even though they have not been heavily checked out, especially given the increase in popularity lately,” she said.

Board member Lynn Wilson read some passages provided to the school district by concerned parties. He said he had to stop reading the passages, calling them “horrific,” “dehumanizing” and “vile.”

“I’m not sure why we would want to normalize forcible rape and bestiality,” he said. “That’s something we could use as a standard – if we can’t take a passage out of a book and put it on our website, maybe we shouldn’t have it in our library.”

The members of the review committees will be required to read the books cover to cover.

“You can’t just look at passages. You have to look at historical references. You have to look at the text in its totality,” said Stephanie Yocum, president of the Polk Education Association. “I’m not a fortune teller but I just don’t see many of these titles being banned because you have to look at them in the totality. You have to look at them in context.”

The two committees will each consist of a chief academic officer/curriculum specialist, two library/media specialists, two teachers, two parents, Florida Association for media in Florida, a NAACP member, an Equality Florida member, a Concerned Citizen of Polk member, a County Citizen Defending Freedom member, two student support service members – which are counselors, psychologists or social workers, a child psychology/child development specialist, two secondary students with parent approval and a facilitator.

The committees will read and review eight books each. They will then consider a list of 11 items, including age and grade level appropriateness of the books, whether they result in a more compassionate understanding of human beings and whether the work could be considered offensive.

The books will be read one at a time then discussed in a public meeting. No public input will be allowed.

The committee members will then vote by signature ballot on what should be done with the books.

The process will take approximately 13 weeks.