Efforts are being made in Florida counties to comply with a law being championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis requiring the approval of books in classroom libraries.
Manatee County school district teachers are experiencing “fear” and “confusion” as the district works to implement HB 1467, which requires books to be pre-approved or reviewed by a Florida Department of Education-trained media specialist, according to Pat Barber. President of the Manatee Education Association, the county’s teachers’ union.
A document provided by the district, which includes new legislative changes to HB 1467, indicates violations could be considered third-degree felonies.
“To me, it’s unscrupulous that teachers are put in a position where their good deed of providing classroom libraries to their students to instill a love of reading could potentially lead to a crime,” Barber told CNN.
The book regulation, which went into effect in July after being signed into law by DeSantis last year, requires library media resources to be approved by a “school district employee who holds a valid educational media specialist certificate,” according to a June memo. According to the Florida Department of Education, which only released guidance in December, library materials choices — including classroom libraries — must be “free of pornography” and material prohibited by law, “appropriate to the needs of students and their ability to understand the material presented” and “at adapted to the grade level and age group”.
“A teacher (or an adult) faces a crime if he knowingly disseminates egregious material, such as B. Images depicting sexual behavior, sexual violence, sodomy, or sadomasochistic abuse. Who could be against it?” Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. tweeted Wednesday in defense of the measure.
The controversial law is just one of several efforts DeSantis is backing to legislate what can be taught in Florida schools — a public stance that has raised his national profile as he is reportedly weighing a possible 2024 presidential bid. Just this week, the governor commented for the first time on the state’s rejection of a new proposed AP course on African American studies because it imposes what he called a “political agenda.”
CNN has reached out to the DeSantis office for comment.
Marie Masferrer of the Florida Association for Media in Education asked school board members during a Tuesday meeting to allow students access to books in classrooms while the materials are cataloged and reviewed. “Open the classroom libraries while the process can be done,” she said.
Don Falls, who teaches government and business at Manatee High School, told CNN that teachers were told they could box, cover up their personal classroom libraries or enter the books into the district’s cataloging system to verify their approval and keep them Shelves. He has chosen to cover his books with chart paper.
“I think covering it up is a stronger statement. My students have asked me what’s going on, and while I didn’t go into many details, I did update them on the restrictions placed on books coming out of the district across the state,” said Falls, who is in the district is in his 38th year of apprenticeship.
He added: “I don’t have the time or feel I need to go through all these books and put them into the system. It’s fundamentally wrong for me and First Amendment Rights.”
On Tuesday, Manatee County School District executive director of curriculum Laurie Breslin said some teachers may have decided to close access to books because they lack the time to catalog their class libraries and verify that titles have been pre-approved . But Breslin pointed out that teachers are allowed to give students pre-approved reading materials and students have access to books in the school’s main library.
“We’re protecting the teachers and we’re not saying we’re going to ban books,” school board chairman Chad Choate III said.
While battles over access to controversial books have traditionally been fought district by district and even school by school, Republican-controlled states like Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas have enacted statewide rules that make it easier for critics to veto titles they don’t like remove school libraries in each community.
In Manatee County, the school district confirmed to CNN that it is in the process of “cataloging” books in classrooms to ensure they comply with the law.
Manatee County School District chief of staff Kevin Chapman said volunteers are working with teachers to compile a list of books in classrooms and to check if books are in a verified materials database. If the book isn’t an approved book, it needs to be reviewed by a trained media specialist, he said.
The district met with school leaders last week to update them on how the district plans to implement the new law, Chapman said. He said he was not aware of any books that had been withdrawn since last week’s meeting, but said books had been withdrawn since the start of the school year because they were deemed inappropriate.
“We know this is going to be a process and we want them to be accurate,” he said. “It’s a big undertaking.”
When asked to respond to critics who say the process is censorship, Chapman said, “The Manatee School District only complies with the law.”
At another school board meeting in Pinellas County, Fla. Tuesday night, school officials confirmed they are also working to align their policies with state requirements. A panel of library media specialists screened 94 book titles “for age appropriateness” over the summer, said Dan Evans, Associate Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Services.
“This team recommended that 10 titles be weeded out of our collections or moved to our adult-only resource library,” Evans said, adding that the process was something initiated by the school district and “exceeds what the state requires.” “.