In the wake of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill and a trend toward increased book banning in America, parental rights versus the harm of censorship is once again on the minds of school librarians. Taking a central role in this latest round of the debate is Follet School Solutions and their plans for a parental control module for their Destiny Library Manager software, plans which they have since reversed.
In March 2022, Follett School Solutions originally announced plans to allow parents to track what books their children were checking out and even restricting their children’s access to certain material through their Destiny Library Manager software. This opt-in software would have allowed parents to create lists of materials their children could not access and survey what they were checking out, providing a summary of each book with relevant tags. These features would be entirely opt-in for the parents, with schools having no way to enable them for all parents and would not be included in standard Destiny installations.
Follett stressed that these new software options were only created for the sake of complying with new state laws, such as the Parental Rights in Education (or Don’t Say Gay) law in Florida, which—on top of banning any discussion of sexuality or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade—requires schools to notify parents about wide swaths of what their children do at school if the parents request it. This includes notifying parents if their student has used any health or support system by the school, allowing parents to ban their children from using those services. Considering a report made by The Trevor Project in 2021 showed that 42% of LGBT youth considered suicide in the last year—and over half of all transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide—this law has faced serious backlash from human rights groups, even as other states have moved to pass their own versions of it. Of the ALA’s recently announced top ten most challenged books in 2021, half were banned for containing LGBT content, with many of the banned books written by or about people of color as well.
Legally inspired or not, Follett’s plans for their parental controls module faced an intense backlash of its own. On March 11, 2022, the Forsyth County News in Georgia ran a story about the local school district’s attempts to address community concerns about “sexually explicit” books and mentioned that when school district leaders outlined their plans for change during a meeting, they included the proposed changes to the Destiny software, which is used by the county school. After the story broke, many enraged by Follett’s plans took to twitter to complain, and a petition signed by educators, librarians, and authors was widely circulated.
On April 1, 2022, the CEOs of Follett—Britten Follett and Paul Isle—released a joint statement announcing they would no longer be moving forward with their newest plans for Destiny Library Manager. Their plans were not finalized before they were halted, “just conversations” according to Follett, spurred on by the over thirty customers who had contacted them with parental concerns. In the face of such staunch backlash from librarians and industry partners, Follett said, “I think what’s abundantly clear is that these types of parental controls built into Destiny are not in the best interests of our customers at this point… I would just hope that we turn all of this energy into something positive to change the conversation around getting books in the hands of kids, which is truly what all of our missions are.”