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Leon County school board strikes down "I am Billie Jean King" book challenge

A man with a red shit speaks at a podium. Behind him, are two photos of children
Patrick Sternad
WFSU Public Media
Leon County Superintendent of Schools Rocky Hanna

On Monday, the district voted to keep the biography “I am Billie Jean King” on school library shelves. The challenge was brought by Tallahassee-parent Katie Lyons, who says the novel violates state law because it “defines sexual orientation.”

In the novel, the tennis legend Billie Jean King writes about when she realizes she’s gay and explains that being gay means a same-sex attraction. That same book is offered in three Leon County schools.

“This book is not about that she's gay, the theme is about championing equality," said Leon School Board vice chair Rosanne Wood.

The board’s decision is backed by the recommendation of hearing officer and retired principal D.J. Wright. In a statement, Wright said the district should keep the book because it only makes, “incidental references" to same-sex couples, and by law, a parent can only dictate what their child can and cannot read.

Marcus Nicolas is one of the board members to approve the novel. He says his decision stems from wanting to see diversity in books.

“I am not going to deny children who look like me, children who grew up like me, because that’s Black and White and Asian and everybody else, possibilities for their futures," said Nicolas.

While King’s novel stays put for now, it may not be in the clear, yet. State law allows for the board’s decision to be appealed to the state.

The board did announce it will release a new policy to make it easier for parents to screen their child’s reading material. A draft is forthcoming.

Five additional novels were removed from the district earlier this month at the behest of the conservative group Mom’s for Liberty, which argued those books included pornography.

Adrian Andrews is a multimedia journalist with WFSU Public Media. He is a Gadsden County native and a first-generation college graduate from Florida A&M University. Adrian is also a military veteran, ending his career as a Florida Army National Guard Non-Comissioned Officer.

Adrian has experience in print writing, digital content creation, documentary, and film production. He has spent the last four years on the staff of several award-winning publications such as The Famuan, Gadsden County News Corp, and Cumulus Media before joining the WFSU news team.