Florida school district begins ‘cataloging’ books to comply with DeSantis-backed law



CNN

Efforts are underway in Florida counties to comply with a law championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis that requires approval of books in classroom libraries.

Teachers in the Manatee County School District experience ‘fear’ and ‘confusion’ as the district works to implement HB 1467, which requires books to be pre-approved materials or verified by a media specialist trained by the Florida Department of Education, according to Pat Barber, president of the Manatee Education Association, the county’s teachers’ union.

A document provided by the district that sets out the new statutory changes to HB 1467 indicates that the violations could be considered a third-degree felony.

“It is unconscionable to me that teachers are placed in a position where their good deed of providing classroom libraries to their students in order to instill a love of reading could possibly result in a crime,” Barber told CNN.

The books provision, which went into effect in July after being signed by DeSantis last year, requires library media resources to be approved by a “school district employee who holds a valid educational media,” according to a June memo. According to the Florida Department of Education, which issued guidance notes as recently as December, the selection of library materials – including classroom libraries – must be “free of pornography” and material prohibited by the law, “adapted to the needs of the students and their ability to understand the material presented” and “appropriate to the grade level and age group”.

“A teacher (or any adult) faces a crime if they knowingly distribute egregious material, such as images that depict sexual conduct, sexual assault, bestiality, or sadomasochistic abuse. Who could be against that? Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. tweeted Wednesday in defense of the measure.

The controversial law is just one of many efforts DeSantis has backed to legislate what can be taught in Florida schools — a public stance that boosted his national prominence as he considered a potential 2024 presidential bid. Just this week, the governor commented for the first time on the state’s rejection of a proposed new AP course on African American Studies for imposing what he called a “political agenda.”

CNN has reached out to DeSantis’ office for comment.

Marie Masferrer of the Florida Association for Media in Education asked school board members at a meeting Tuesday to give students access to books in classrooms while the material is cataloged and verified. “Open the class libraries while the process can be done,” she said.

Don Falls, who teaches government and economics at Manatee High School, told CNN teachers have been told they can pack their personal classroom libraries, cover them, or enter the books into the school’s cataloging system. district to verify their approval and keep them. shelves. He chose to cover his books with graph paper.

“I think that’s a stronger statement to cover them. My students asked me what was going on, and although I didn’t go into much detail, I informed them of the restrictions that were placed on books that came from the district via the state,” Falls said. . , who is in her 38th year teaching in the district.

He added: “I don’t have the time or feel like I should go through all these books and put them in the system. It’s fundamentally wrong for me and my students’ First Amendment rights.

On Tuesday, Laurie Breslin, executive director of curriculum for the Manatee County School District, said some teachers may have decided to block access to books because they didn’t have time to catalog their classroom libraries and check if the titles were pre-approved. But Breslin said teachers are allowed to give students pre-approved reading materials and students have access to books from the school’s main library.

“We’re the ones protecting the teachers, not to say we’re banning the books,” said school board chairman Chad Choate III.

While battles over access to controversial books have traditionally been fought district by district, and even school by school, Republican-controlled states including Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas have imposed rules on statewide that make it easier for reviewers to remove titles they dislike from the school. libraries in each community.

In Manatee County, the school district confirmed to CNN that it is “cataloguing” books in classrooms to ensure it complies with the law.

Kevin Chapman, chief of staff for the Manatee County School District, said volunteers were working with teachers to compile a list of books in classrooms and checking to see if the books were in a database of approved materials. If the book is not an approved book, it must be checked by a qualified media specialist, he said.

The district met with principals last week to brief them on how the district plans to implement the new law, according to Chapman. He said he was not aware of any books taken down since last week’s meeting, but said there had been books taken down since the start of the school year because they were judged inappropriate.

“We know it’s going to be a process and we want them to be specific,” he said. “It’s a big business.”

Asked to respond to critics who say the process is censorship, Chapman said, “The Manatee School District is just following the law.”

At another school board meeting in Pinellas County, Florida on Tuesday night, school officials confirmed they are also working to align their policies with state requirements. A group of library media specialists reviewed 94 book titles over the summer “for age appropriateness,” said Dan Evans, associate superintendent of teaching and learning services.

“This team recommended that 10 titles be eliminated from our collections or moved to our adult-only resource library,” Evans said, adding that the process was something the school district instituted and goes “beyond this. required by the state”.