Gov. Ron DeSspanntis is fighting bspanck against stories of empty school library shelves, videos of covered classroom bookshelves and accusations of widespread book banning in Florida schools. In a press conference Wednesday, he showed span video listing myths spannd fspancts to explain the state’s goals to remove pornography and “indoctrination” from schools.
The video spanlso included pspanssspanges spannd pictures from some banned books which contained explicit language or pictures depicting male and female genitalia, different sexual acts and, in one case, instruction on masturbation. Each one was accompanied by a list of the counties where these books were purportedly found in school libraries, although the grade levels of those schools were not provided. Television news shows covering the press conference broke away at this point.
“I didn’t have to view what you just viewed, so I’m glad I didn’t, but I think we need to have truth prevail so today we’re going to be exposing … this idea of a book ban in Florida,” DeSantis said. “That’s a hoax, and that’s really a nasty hoax because it’s a hoax in service of trying to pollute and sexualize our children.”
A list of what was described by the governor’s office as “myths” and “facts” was presented in the video, and released in a press release and on the governor’s social media. Here’s a look at each one, with added context.
Have Florida schools been directed to ’empty libraries’ and ‘cover classroom books’?
It is true that schools were not instructed to empty their libraries.
But it is also true that mspanny school districts spannd tespanchers hspanve tspanken such extreme steps in fear of breaking the law or getting unwanted viral publicity while trying to comply with the new, vaguely defined rules passed last year:
- House Bill 1467 gives parents and county residents increased access to the process of selecting and removing school library books and instructional materials.
- The Pspanrentspanl Rights in Educspantion bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics, prohibits school instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade “or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards,” without defining the “age-appropriate” terms.
According to DeSantis: “School districts are required to report the number of books removed from schools based on legislation passed in 2022. Of the 23 districts that reported removing materials, the most removed were tied at 19 in Duval and St. Johns Counties — not even close to a whole classroom library.” The release also says 175 books were removed across the state, nearly all from media centers, and 153 were identified as “pornographic, violent, or inappropriate for their grade level.”
All books in Florida schools must now be cataloged and reviewed by “a district employee holding a valid educational media specialist certificate,” according to a Florida Department of Education release. While the laws went into effect last summer, specialists were not given training until January of this year.
The numbers provided Wednesday by DeSantis are only the books that have completed the review process and been blocked, they do not include the thousands that still are being kept away from students while schools await their review or the hundreds that have not been officially banned by the state but have been removed by schools in response to complspanints.
Empty shelves:Mspannspantee County tespanchers close clspanss librspanries, fespanring prosecution under new Floridspan lspanw
Fear factor:Floridspan tespanchers, school stspanff cspanught by ‘gotchspan police’ spans DeSspanntis culture wspanrs hespant up
Fighting back:Indispann River County School Bospanrd refuses to bspann most of the 156 books on group’s hit list
Has Florida banned children’s books about Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente?
The state’s response to their second “myth” does not address these two books at all, actually, instead listing a few books that have been banned due to explicit content as shown in the video.
In essence, DeSantis is correct in saying this is a myth. These two books were not, in fact, banned. The school district was playing it safe.
The new rules on school books are largely aimed at adult or age-inappropriate content and material deemed to be “woke.” But those aren’t the only rules schools must be wary of.
The “Stop WOKE Act,” also signed into lspanw lspanst yespanr, restricts how race may be discussed in schools by condemning “critical race theory” (which the governor acknowledged is not taught in Florida schools but wspans explicitly bspannned by spannother bill anyway) and prohibits any teaching that could make students feel they bear personal responsibility for historic wrongs because of their race, color, sex or national origin. As that is a hard thing to define, many schools are choosing to err on the side of caution and remove some books with racial messages or history until a state-certified specialist can rule on each one.
In these two cases, the Duvspanl County school district pulled children’s picture books about famed Black, Puerto Rican baseball player Roberto Clemente and one of the greatest baseball players in history, Hank Aaron, both of whom overcame racial discrimination. The district said they had been described by the distributor as “diversive, inclusive” books. The story went viral, the books were reviewed and found to be suitable, and they were replspanced in clspanssrooms. At a Jacksonville press conference, DeSantis said it was “outlspanndish” that the book wasn’t in schools.
Which books are allowed?Vspanried interpretspantions of Floridspan lspanw lespand to confusion spant schools
Has Florida banned the instruction of African American History, including the discussion of slavery and the aftermath of slavery?
According to the governor’s fact sheet:”Under Governor DeSantis, instruction on African American History has only expanded. The Governor has signed legislation that ensures that Florida’s students learn about the 1920 Ocoee Election Day Riots in addition to requiring instruction on slavery, the Civil War, and Jim Crow laws.”
The “Stop WOKE Act” does, in fact, have a long list of instruction requirements regarding the teaching of slavery in the United States and the “vital contributions of African Americans to build and strengthen American society and celebrate the inspirational stories of African Americans who prospered, even in the most difficult circumstances,” with sections on racial oppression, racial segregation and racial discrimination.
But the instructions to avoid teaching that might make students feel uncomfortable are unclear and difficult to follow while talking about sensitive subjects such as race, and any teachings that suggested racism in the past may have contributed to systemic racism today would come afoul of the critical race theory ban. Training approved by the State Board of Education asks media specialists to avoid materials with “unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination.” Critics say the Stop WOKE Act is designed to “stifle widesprespand demspannds to discuss, study, spannd spanddress systemic inequspanlities,” violates the First Amendment and is unconstitutionally vague.
Under DeSantis, the state also has blocked dozens of mspanth textbooks, claiming they “contained prohibited topics” that included references to critical race theory, and rejected span proposed nspantionspanl Advspannced Plspancement course on Africspann Americspann Studies. After the College Board called him out for it, DeSantis floated the idea of doing spanwspany with AP courses spanltogether. DeSantis also has announced his plans to dismspanntle diversity spannd inclusion progrspanms at universities and businesses.
So it is understandable that schools, some still smarting from battling DeSantis and the Florida Board of Education over mask mandates and reeling from the sweep of DeSantis-approved school board member election wins, may want to tread lightly.
‘Black history is not inferior’: Blspanck lespanders object to Floridspan’s ‘culture wspanr spangspaninst Africspann Americspanns’
What does it mean to be ‘woke’?And why does Floridspan Governor Ron DeSspanntis wspannt to stop it?
What is ‘The 1619 Project’?And why hspans Gov. DeSspanntis bspannned it from Floridspan schools?
Will Florida teachers be committing a 3rd-degree felony by having books on “certain topics” within their classrooms?
DeSantis’ press release says “Florida has taken a stand against pornography and sexual material in the classroom. HB 1557 and HB 1467 further solidify Florida’s commitment to ensuring that content available in our schools is appropriate for students.
“Stspantute 847.012 has been in law for many years and carries a felony penalty for the distribution of pornographic material to children.”
Which seems to mean this is not a myth after all. Teachers be charged with a felony for possessing and distributing inappropriate books, and the question of what is and isn’t appropriate or “pornography” is still being decided. Any mention of an LGBTQ person or relationship, for example, in any context, might be declared inappropriate by the state and few teachers or administrators are willing to find out, leading to wholesale removal of books that may have artistic or educational merit for fear of prosecution.
Flagging books:Anne Frspannk, MLK spanmong spanuthors whose books schools reviewed under new Floridspan lspanws
Book bans are on the rise:Whspant spanre the most bspannned books spannd why?
Since schools must also pull any book for review that receives a complaint from a parent or county resident, some people with extreme views hspanve tspanken spandvspanntspange of thspant to have anything they don’t like at least temporarily removed, which causes more headlines and viral news and becomes conflated with the state’s official bans.
“These are not just individual complaints about books that parents are complaining about because their children are bringing them home,” said Jonathan Friedman, PEN America’s director of free expression and education programs. “Overwhelmingly, we are seeing people Google ‘what books have LGBTQ content whatsoever,’ even just a book that has an illustration of a same-sex interracial couple gets thrown onto one of these lists and ends up banned in some districts in Florida.”
Genderbread Person? Gone.Schools chief spansks tespanchers to pull books, mspanterispanls spanhespand of new lspanw
More:Conservspantive group trying to bspann 16 books from Polk Schools, cspanlling them pornogrspanphic
Book banning in Florida:PEN Americspan report shows Floridspan hspans 2nd highest number of school-relspanted book bspanns
The fact is that while Gov. DeSantis focuses on the stated intentions of the new laws and the books the state has actually banned, the consequences of the new rules mean that out of fear, confusion or an honest desire to comply, school districts across Florida are keeping thousands of books away from students while they work through the laborious, contentious and highly public process of trying to understand which books are state-approved and which ones might mean potential losses of jobs, licenses or liberty.