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


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.

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

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

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

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

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

The controversial law marks just one of several DeSantis-backed efforts to legislate what can be taught in Florida schools, a public stance that has boosted his national prominence as he is said to be weighing a potential 2024 presidential run. This week, the governor commented for the first time on the state’s rejection of a proposed new AP course in 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 called on school board members during a meeting Tuesday to give students access to books in classrooms while the materials are cataloged and examined. “Open classroom libraries while the process can be done,” she said.

Don Falls, who teaches government and economics at Manatee High School, told CNN that teachers were told they could pack up their personal classroom libraries, cover them up, or enter the books into the district’s cataloging system to verify their accuracy. approval and maintain them. shelves. He has chosen to cover his books with graph paper.

“I think it’s a stronger statement to cover them up. My students have been asking me what’s going on, and while I didn’t go into a lot of detail, I did inform them about the restrictions that have been placed on books that have come from the district through the state,” Falls said. , who celebrates 38 years of teaching in the district.

He added: “I don’t have the time or feel like I should have to go through all these books and put them in the system. It is 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 don’t have time to catalog their classroom libraries and check to see if titles are pre-approved. But Breslin said teachers are allowed to give students pre-approved reading materials and students have access to books in the school’s main library.

“This is us protecting teachers, not saying we’re banning books,” School Board President 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, including Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas, have pushed statewide rules that make it easier for critics remove titles they don’t like from the 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 make sure it complies with the law.

Kevin Chapman, chief of staff for the Manatee County School District, said volunteers are working with teachers to compile a list of books in classrooms and check to see if the books are in a database of examined materials. If the book is not an approved book, it should be reviewed by a trained media specialist, he said.

The district met with principals last week to inform them about how the district planned to implement the new law, according to Chapman. He said he wasn’t aware of any books that have been removed since last week’s meeting, but said that books have been removed since the beginning 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 great company.”

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

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

“That team recommended 10 titles to remove from our collections or move to our adult-only resource library,” Evans said, adding that the process was something the school district instituted and goes “beyond what the state requires.” .