Free Expression Friday: Florida Freedom to Read Project (Raegan Miller)

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Raegan Miller is the Director of Finance and Development at the Florida Freedom to Read Project and a Florida parent.

What is the mission of the Florida Freedom to Read Project?

Raegan Miller, FFTRP: Our mission basically is to help our public school districts to make sure that our students, under all these new laws and changing laws and policies in Florida, have access to information and receive that high-quality education that they're guaranteed in the Florida Constitution.

How did FFTRP come together?

Raegan: There was a school board meeting in October of 2021 where a right-wing extremist group got up and read a book out of context at a school board meeting, and the school board members immediately pulled that book. There happened to be two moms sitting at the meeting — because there was a lot going on in 2021, we were coming off of the mask debate and all those things — and the two of them were just shocked that a book could be so easily pulled, without any kind of input or review or discussion, just from reading a few pages. So what they decided to do was start a social media campaign to raise awareness and let people know that this was happening. They thought, okay, if we raise enough awareness, people will of course rally around this and stop this nonsense. Obviously, since I'm still talking to you in 2024, that's not exactly how this played out. So in early 2022, we became an official organization and decided, because we were seeing it around not just that particular county but around the state in various forms, what we had to do was submit a lot of public records requests to see what was going on in every county, and ask: how do we come back from the self-censorship and censorship happening across our state?

What have been some of the most significant organizing milestones for FFTRP?

Raegan: The first big milestone was showing what happened in Duval County. Duval, which is still in the news today, is where they purchased [Perfection Learning’s] Essential Voices collection. Duval is a majority-minority district, and they were saying, “Hey, our kids are not reading where they need to be. Imagine this novel concept that if kids are interested in what they're reading, they might actually read!” So they purchased this collection. But while it was just being floated, they were like, “Let's dial this back a little bit.” And that's where you heard that books like Roberto Clemente were being pulled and put back in storage, and they sat there for a really long time. And if you've continued to follow the news, a lot of those even got shipped to a bookstore in North Carolina, [the Firestorm Book Collective in Asheville,] and some as we speak are being redistributed back to Florida. [The bookstore they went to that has been redistributing them is the Firestorm Book Collective in Asheville, North Carolina.]

Things like the Amanda Gorman book being pulled in Miami those were our significant, I would say, milestones — where people were like, wait, this is real, and this is happening in my community.

Things seem to be shifting in Florida a little bit. Can you explain some of the progress that was made this past legislative session to curb book bans? I also want to know if you think it's sufficient, and if not, what more would you like to see happen?

Raegan: So I definitely think they're realizing that this is unpopular, that people don't like this. They understand it, and they hold press conferences. I mean, we saw that the governor came out and say, “This has gone too far. These are bad actors.” And we had significant conversations with people saying, “What can you do to stop it?” One thing that was bounced around was, “Hey, let's charge someone a $100 fee when you challenge a book if you're not a parent, and if you win, then you get your $100 back.” I believe the House passed that, but the Senate did not like that at all. Where they landed was, if you’re not a parent, you’re limited to one challenge per month. It's nice on paper, but I don't think realistically it's going to change a lot: of the people who are the biggest challengers of books right now, one happens to be in Clay County, and when he was asked by a news reporter specifically about the $100 fee, he laughed and said he'll do whatever it takes so that he can get this stuff out of libraries, that he didn't care. There is a woman who is a teacher in Escambia County who’s challenged a bunch of books, and then got a power of attorney from a parent in another county. Does she qualify as a parent because she has the power of attorney? We don't know. And then there's a woman on the East Coast who's challenged at least a few hundred books, and interestingly enough, she was put on the Department of Education media specialist training work group last year. And then they just had their first meeting of the new work group to update it for some new laws this year, and she was again selected for that work group. So they're saying one thing, but then they’re putting the people who were challenging the most books onto these work groups and encouraging our media specialists to err on the side of caution as they like to say. (We like to flip that and say err on the side of education.)

Is there anything else coming up this year that you think people should know about in Florida?

Raegan: I mean we're watching right now, we are waiting to see whether the Department of Education will release its new guidelines. We believe there is going to be a lot of conversation around sexual conduct and pornography. It seems that people are immediately assuming that sexual conduct is pornography. And so I think that's what we're going to watch and see. Our Senate President come out and said, “That's ridiculous that they would take Romeo and Juliet or [other] Shakespeare off the [shelf].” But they're not advancing that to modern literature, because when they're reading the modern literature that doesn't have the street cred, so to speak, of Shakespeare, they're like, that talks about a sexual act [and banning it]. So we're losing some of these cautionary tales and sex education.

There was a memo written by the Department of Education on October 13th, that said things with sexual conduct needed to be reviewed, and that's really what happened in Escambia County where you saw the dictionary being pulled. They pulled 1,600 books off their shelves. Last I heard, a hundred had been returned or at least gone through the review process, but at that rate some of these books are going to be off these shelves for kids’ entire high school career. 

How can Floridians get involved in the Florida Freedom to read project, and how can non-Floridians support?

Raegan: There are several ways. One, follow us on social media. We're on every form of social media available, and we try to put out as much information [as we can]. Like I said, we do a lot of public records requests, so we've got the emails and the data to show what we're tracking. You can obviously donate straight to us at, reach out to us individually, show up at school board meetings — chances are we've got people at school board meetings. We don't encourage people to just go speak randomly, and we don't have specific chapters, but what we like to do is connect people to their local groups and support.

We are truly parents of public school students, and we want their voices to be heard. We don't want a national organization or some political organizations saying how we feel. We want to come in and talk to the parents and say, okay, what are you seeing and how can we help? Or, here's where a policy has been successful in another county. And [it’s also important to realize] that Florida is very diverse. We have blue counties, red counties, we have purple counties, and what works in one county might not work in another, so it's very helpful [to get in touch]. Also, if you're seeing something in your county that concerns you, reach out to us and say hey, my kid’s not getting access to this book, or they change the curriculum, or all of the sudden they’re not allowed to talk about Ruby Bridges anymore. Let us know. We're happy to dig in and find out what's going on and ask questions.