A Florida teacher who seeks to ban nearly 150 books on the grounds it is her "responsibility to protect minors" received pushback from former students who say she has a history of making openly bigoted comments and exhibiting equally problematic behavior.
In an interview with Popular Information, Baggett—who teaches at Northview High School in Century, Florida—said she is deadset on banning books like When Wilma Rudolph Played Basketball—about how the Olympic sprinter battled racial discrimination in different kinds of sports—because she has concerns the book could make White students "feel uncomfortable."
Baggett's urge to ban the book to protect White children from discomfort is only the tip of the iceberg.
According to former students of hers, Baggett openly promoted her racist and homophobic beliefs in class.
Peggy Sunday, who graduated from Northview High School in 2021, told Popular Information Baggett announced she opposes interracial marriage during a 10th grade English class. Sunday said Baggett "said in the Bible somewhere it says that it is a sin for races to mix together and that Whites are meant to be with Whites and Blacks are meant to be with Blacks."
Stone Pressley, who was in the same class as Sunday, recalled the incident and remembered Baggett said she opposes "race mixing" because "she wanted to preserve cultures" and "didn't want everyone to turn the same color eventually." Two more students also confirmed the incident took place.
Sunday recalled Baggett specifcally targeting Black students, even asking two if they "knew how to swim" because "most Black people don't know how to swim." One of the Black students targeted by Baggett confirmed this happened and their statement was backed up by two other students.
Baggett—who once posted an image of the Confederate Flag to her Facebook page because "everyone in my clan fought in the Civil War"—told Popular Information she is a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC).
UDC is a hereditary association for female descendants of Confederate Civil War soldiers best known for hastily placing cheaply made Confederate monuments throughout the South during the Civil Rights movement to remind people of color of "their place" in Southern society.
The removal of those monuments in recent years has been a hot topic.
Former students also said Baggett regularly expressed homophobic beliefs in class.
At one point she told a student whose sister had a girlfriend she was "faking being a lesbian for attention."
Baggett made homophobia one of the cornerstones of her crusade to ban books with LGBTQ+ themes, notably And Tango Makes Three, which tells the story of two male penguins, Roy and Silo, who create a family together.
Baggett said the book uses penguins to "promote the LGBTQ agenda."
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Baggett told Popular Information she opposes including And Tango Makes Three in school libraries because second graders might read the book and determine "these are two people of the same sex that love each other."
Baggett's views on gender roles are also outdated.
She once told parents in a letter that "men are the protectors and the women are the nurturers" and that is why "women have the children and the men go to work." Although a parent complained, Northview High School did not take action.
Baggett's behavior intimidated students who said they were "scared" to report her to school administration because Northview High School is small and Baggett has taught there for 30 years.
Baggett's conduct attracted significant attention online after the Popular Information article—by journalist Judd Legum—made her behavior known to the wider public.
Many condemned her actions and called for her dismissal as a result.
A pushback against literature with anything counter to a White, Christian, heteronormative, patriarchal worldview has dominated the culture wars as of late, becoming a flashpoint among the far-right amid a campaign by Republicans to energize conservative voters, particularly in school board elections.
In recent months, the Republican Party latched onto an ongoing "groomer" hysteria accusing LGBTQ+ people of targeting children to "make" them LGBTQ+.
This resulted in revived 1970s rhetoric used by people like Anita Bryant against the alleged "LGBTQ+ indoctrination" of children and prompted at least one Republican to suggest parents and teachers who support LGBTQ+ children should be "executed for treason."
Multiple teachers and librarians around the country complained about the hostile political climate making it difficult for them to have conversations about racial equity and LGBTQ+ issues, including one librarian who went viral after she called out conservatives for yanking library funding and for calling her and her staff "pedophiles" for including LGBTQ+ books in the library's collection.