Florida at Center of Debate as School Book Bans Surge Nationally

JACKSONVILLE, FL — Two years after a nationwide surge in book bans, the state of Florida is clashing over what reading is appropriate for children. The law greatly expands state powers to restrict books.

Historically, books were challenged one at a time. As bans in schools and libraries began to tighten nationwide in 2021, efforts led by parents and groups were largely local. But in his past year, access to books, especially those on race, gender and sexual orientation, has become increasingly politicized. As a result, some states and school districts have tightened laws and regulations that affect the books that libraries can offer.

The shift has been particularly noticeable in Florida, where the Republican-dominated legislature coordinated with Governor Ron DeSantis last year to pass three state laws aimed at least in part at reading and educational materials. The network of maintenance groups is expanding rapidly. Among the books removed from circulation in his one of the state school districts are Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” and Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

The policy has energized Mr. DeSantis’ supporters and is part of the foundation of his candidacy for president.

Proponents of restrictions say their purpose is to protect students from inappropriate material and give parents more control over their children’s education. By focusing on “parental rights,” DeSantis is trying to build on the popularity he gained when he resisted COVID-19 restrictions, especially in schools. Pushing is a hallmark piece of conservatism he’s displaying in Florida. For example, his parental rights law in education restricts education on gender and sexuality, leading some school districts to drop books featuring his LGBTQ characters.

Some teachers and librarians say the policies are vague, the language is imprecise, and the requirements are wide-ranging, leading to confusion. But they are trying to comply. Breaking the law can be a third-degree felony. Generally, such crimes are punishable by up to five years in prison.

When new guidelines went into effect in January, some teachers removed or concealed books that had not been vetted by certified media specialists. That approval is now legally required. Others have not ordered titles that could cause complaints. and pulled collections.

“This is a whole new level of fear,” said Kathleen Daniels, president of the Florida Educational Media Association, a professional organization of school librarians and media educators. “Some books are challenged and not selected.”

Florida is second only to Texas and has the highest number of book removals. according to reports It was released Thursday by the free speech organization PEN America, which tracked the book bans in schools from July 1 to December 31, 2022. With the myriad of books in classrooms and school libraries, it has been difficult to quantify the true extent of book removals within the state.

Many of the new restrictions stem from a law passed last year that requires trained media professionals to evaluate each textbook to ensure it is age-appropriate and free of “pornographic” content. I’m here. The law also requires schools to maintain searchable online databases of books in libraries and classrooms.

The proposed bill goes further. March, Florida House Specification This could require the school to promptly remove the book based on a single complaint from a parent or county resident that the book depicts sexual activity. Under the proposed bill, the books would remain unavailable until the complaint was resolved.

Two other laws contribute to book bans in Florida schools. The Stop WOKE Act prohibits teaching that could make students feel guilty or responsible for the past actions of other members of their race. Laws on parental rights in education prohibit classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in some elementary schools. State rules expected to expand Limited to 12th grade.

Efforts by Florida’s 67 public school districts to implement the new rule have been spotty and often chaotic. Some districts have not taken major steps. Others have enacted blanket removals that essentially destroy the library.

Earlier this year, shortly after new guidelines for libraries were issued in January, some school districts took swift action. In Jacksonville’s hometown of Duval County, public school districts have restricted access to his more than one million titles, keeping them out of the hands of students until they’re subject to professional scrutiny. In Manatee County, Florida’s Gulf Coast, some teachers boxed up the classroom library or covered the bookshelves. Officials in Martin County, on the state’s Atlantic coast, announced in January and his February a series of his sci-fi adventures for readers, including John Green’s “In Search of Alaska” and James Patterson’s “Maximum Ride.” About 150 books, including novels, have been removed from school handouts. 10 years old or older pulled out of elementary school.

Patterson, who lives in Palm Beach, Fla., said it was “terrifying” that his books had been taken.

“If you can pull a mainstream series like Maximum Ride off the shelves, you know no one is safe,” he said.county Spreadsheet No specific reason was given for the series’ removal.

The training materials advised media professionals to consider how they would feel reading aloud the passage from the book in question. A slide show from the State Department of Education states, “If you don’t like reading materials in public, don’t make them available in your children’s school library.”

Jennifer Pippin leads a regional chapter of the group Moms for Liberty in Florida and was on the Department of Education’s panel to help design training materials. She said books removed from school libraries across the state should not be considered “banned” because they are still available in public libraries and bookstores.

Young people in the school library may have happened to pick up the graphic rape scene because they were enjoying other volumes in the same series, she said. Or a child interested in penguins might open a book about a penguin family with two fathers. But “by their parents’ standards, they may not be right for them,” she said. .”

In Duval County, the school district asked the district’s 54 media professionals to begin reviewing more than 1.6 million titles in January. Unapproved books were told by elementary school teachers and had to be covered or set aside.

almost 25,000 books had cleared the review process earlier this month. Due to the ongoing process, her more than 129,000 students in Duval County have access to only a fraction of the available titles, critics say.

“Our books are shadow-banned,” said Nina Perez, a Jacksonville resident and director of MomsRising, an advocacy group that works against restrictions. will be

Duval School District spokeswoman Tracy Pearce said in an email last month that the action follows guidance from the state’s Department of Education. She said there should never be a lack of reading material. She admitted that “a small number of principals had temporarily closed or overly restricted the media center” and was advised to restore access.

DeSantis has responded positively to criticism that public schools are banning books. He dismissed news reports that a Duval County school had removed a title about baseball player Roberto Clemente as a “joke,” and accused critics of “fabricating” a story about a book ban.

The book, which referenced the racism Clemente faced, was taken down and restored in February after a review. Last month, the state school board titled Jonah Winter’s book of the month for grades 3 through his 5th, “Roberto Clemente: Pittsburgh’s Pirate Pride.”

At a press conference last month, Mr. DeSantis stood behind a sign that read “Debunking Book Ban Hoaxes,” saying the state was trying to protect children from pornography.Event with Maia Kobabe “Flamer” by Mike Curato — and highlighted scenes about sexual contact and masturbation.

“This idea of ​​a book ban in Florida that for some reason they don’t want the books in the library is a hoax,” DeSantis said. “And it’s a really nasty hoax, because it’s a hoax to pollute and try to sexualize our children.”

Critics in the state are outraged. In March, the advocacy group Democracy Forward said: lawsuit The state, representing the Florida Education Association, and other groups challenging the rule, claiming it censors educators, limits student access to books, and harms public education. Florida Freedom to Read The Project organized a rally in Tallahassee last month with authors and free speech activists to protest censorship.

After Jacksonville substitute teacher Brian Covey posted January video A reporter asked Mr. DeSantis about an empty library shelf at Duval County Middle School. The governor called the video a “fake story.” Mr. Covey, who lost his job shortly after, said he was troubled by Mr. DeSantis and the school district’s efforts to outlaw what he recorded.

Covey said the fact that they called it a false narrative “tells me that I’m not going to say, ‘We made a mistake.'”

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