School teachers in Florida’s Manatee county are removing books from their classrooms or physically covering them up after a new bill went into effect that prohibited material unless deemed appropriate by a librarian, or “certified media specialist”.
If a teacher is found in violation of these guidelines, they could face felony charges.
The new guidelines for the Florida law, known as HB 1467, outline the books be free of pornographic material, suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material, and appropriate for the grade level and age group.
In order to determine if the books meet these guidelines, certified media specialists must undergo an online training developed by Florida’s department of education.
With only a few or even one media specialist present in each school, the process to vet books is lengthy.
Scrutiny of teaching material in Florida schools heightened under the leadership of the rightwing Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, whose administration says it is actively working to “protect parental rights”, which includes a prohibition on childhood education on gender, sexual orientation and critical race theory.
DeSantis has emerged as a legitimate rival to Donald Trump in the Republican party. The former US president has already declared his 2024 candidacy for another White House run, while DeSantis is widely expected to do so later this year.
As part of his appeal to the party’s rightwing base DeSantis has sought to portray himself as a culture war warrior, cracking down on LGBTQ rights and taking conservative stances on the fight against Covid-19 and a host of other issues such as immigration.
In 2021, he announced the Stop Woke (Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees) Act to “give businesses, employees, children and families tools to fight back against woke indoctrination”.
Teachers have condemned the new guidelines.
The Manatee Education Association union president, Pat Barber, told local TV station Fox 13: “We have people who have spent their entire careers building their classroom libraries based on their professional and educational experience and understanding of the age of the children they teach.”
Barber added: “Now, their professional judgment and training are being substituted for the opinion of anyone who wishes to review and challenge the books. We’re focused on things that cause teachers to want to walk away from education because they can’t focus on their mission of educating children.”
Some teachers are even covering up their library books with paper.
Don Falls, a history teacher at Manatee high school, told the Herald-Tribune newspaper: “If you have a lot of books like I do, probably several hundred, it is not practical to run all of them through [the vetting process] so we have to cover them up.”
More school districts in Florida are expected to follow suit as a result of such policies this year. The state’s education department issued a deadline of 1 July 2023 for when “the superintendent of schools in each district must certify to the FDOE Commissioner that all school librarians and media specialists have completed this training”.
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