BAY COUNTY-- "If you put the plot of what happened into a movie or a book, people wouldn't believe that it occurred only a few decades ago," Joe Ganakos, a Mowat Middle School student in the 1980's, said.
Nearly 30 years later, most former Bay County students would agree with Ganakos, who's now a college professor. But in 1986, the community was divided into two schools of thought.
"You had a faction of sort of forward-thinking, open mindedness," Ginger Littleton, a Mowat English teacher at the time, said. "And then you had a faction of, 'This is the way we think, this is the way we behave and this is what we have to do.'"
After banning two books, "About David" and "I am the Cheese" from reading lists, Superintendent Leonard Hall and the school board set teachers to a task.
"I don't like vulgarity," Hall said in a 1987 interview with NewsChannel 7. "I don't approve of it in my children. I don't approve of it in any child on a school ground."
Over several months, teachers counted up examples of vulgarity.
"A single word taken out of context was enough to damn a book," Ganakos said.
The worst of them, 64 books, landed in Category III. The Great Gatsby, Fahrenheit 451, Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, remained in the schools but off the required reading lists.
"When I was asked to do that, and the other teachers were, at that point I'm like, uh, no," Littleton said. "This is way, way over the top, and that's when things began to get dicey."
"Some people follow their free will, and some teach playboy or penthouse in the schools," Norman Baron, a supporter of Hall's policy, said.
The issue came to a head in May 1987 when the school board was set to vote on the compiled list. Looking back, however, some say it wasn't the seven hours of public comment that swayed the board.
"I think in this case, specifically, it became a morality issue, and when it got into a legal venue, it sort of pulled it back to the argument at hand," Littleton said.
The day before the meeting, 44 students and teachers, lead by Gloria Pipkin and ReLeah Hawk, filed a class-action federal lawsuit against the policy.
"I think that once they realized that it was going further, and by that time, we were becoming national news, which was enough to make anybody pause," Littleton said.
Unanimously, the board voted Hall's list of 64 back in. Hall declined to answer our questions last week, but in 1987, he did say this.
"I should have come with a grandfather clause for a couple of more months, until I had time to review the books, and I did err in that way," Hall said.
Shakespeare, Orewell and Bradburry were back. But years of fighting for the use of the two original books were still ahead.
The lawsuit continued for years with several amendments and court appearances.
But eventually the books were cleared to appear back in classrooms, and the board developed a concrete policy for how to approach complaints about books.
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