List used to remove books from Beaufort County SC schools


A well-known local Republican politician was the first to submit a list of 97 books that the Beaufort County School District pulled.

The politician, Mike Covert, submitted his list minutes before a local member of Moms for Liberty submitted a similar list. The two lists were nearly identical except Covert added one book — “Stamped,” which bills itself as an “exploration of racism—and anti-racism—in America.”

Covert’s list was emailed to Superintendent Frank Rodriguez at 10:05 am Oct. 19, the morning the books were removed from schools. Covert said he used the list local Moms for Liberty member Ivie Szalai compiled.

Ivie emailed her list to the district 13 minutes later — at 10:18 am

Moms for Liberty is an American conservative nonprofit organization that began in Florida that advocates for parental rights in education. It has been tied to efforts to remove books from schools and has chapters nationwide, including in Beaufort County.

District spokeswoman Candace Bruder confirmed with the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette that the district used Covert’s list to begin pulling books for review.

A staunch conservative, Covert served on the County Council from 2017-20, and during his time he voted against increasing county and school board budgets, questioned money spent without proper oversight, and chaired a committee that sought to improve how the government communicated with constituents .

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Mike Covert announced he will run for Beaufort County Council. Submitted

He announced a run for this year’s 2022 Beaufort County Council election and campaigned for the District 6 seat but lost in the June primary. Due to a lapse in redistricting records, Covert’s name wasn’t on about 70 of the ballots.

He is still active in the community and runs a YouTube channel called “Beaufort City House of Cards.”

According to Beaufort County policy “School officials may not broadly remove books from a school library based on ‘narrowly partisan or political’ grounds that may violate students’ First Amendment rights to receive information and ideas.”

Rodriguez was not available for immediate comment Tuesday, but Bruder sent a statement to the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette, saying Covert is no longer an elected official and political affiliation isn’t a consideration for the superintendent.

The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette received a copy of the list Covert sent through a Freedom of Information Act request Szalai had submitted. The newspapers submitted a similar request, which is pending.

Szalai said she decided to submit a FOIA after some Beaufort County community members called the list politically motivated. The rating system, BookLooks.org, doesn’t flag “Stamped” as having inappropriate sexual content, despite that being the focus of parents’ efforts to remove the 97 books from the schools.

“I think it is important to note that the focus of the book banning has been on pornography in books, yet also includes all versions of ‘Stamped,’ a book about racism that is rated a ‘1’ on their evaluation tool and includes no sexual conduct content,” community member McKinley Person said at a school board meeting Nov. 1. “This is evidence that their motive is not pure, but driven by an agenda that includes racism and anti-LGBTQ bigotry.”

Covert said it isn’t political.

“I would imagine the majority of us that feel the way I do, I would assume are GOP voting-type people,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that, because this really isn’t a political thing. And if somebody wants to make it political that is just wrong. This is about humans, not about political parties. I’m not making it political.”

Stampede
“Stamped” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi is one of the books undergoing review in Beaufort County school libraries.

“Stamped” has several versions, including a kids’ version. Ibram Kendi, one of the authors and a historian, addressed nationwide efforts to ban the book earlier this year.

“So, too, is it important for us to actively raise our children to recognize racial equality, to not connect skin color to bad or good behavior,” he said in an interview with Reader’s Digest. “And if we don’t do that as parents, then the world is going to teach them something different.”

The book is No. 49 on the list of 50 most-banned books in the 2020-21 school year, according to Pen America. It gained national attention when US Sen. Ted Cruz used the book during Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearing in April 2022 as he questioned her about her views of critical race theory.

In was banned in classrooms or libraries across Florida and Pennsylvania in three instances. In six instances across Florida, Texas and Tennessee it was removed until school officials could determine its appropriateness.

Mary Dimitrov is an education and real estate reporter for The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. A Maryland native, she graduated from the University of Maryland with bachelor’s degrees in journalism and public policy. Previously, she has spent time reporting in the US Senate for McClatchy’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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