Book ban underway as teachers fear prosecution in Florida

Published: Jan. 26, 2023 at 9:12 AM EST
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (WFOX) - Teachers in at least one Florida school district say they are closing up their class libraries because of a new Florida law taking effect.

Behind a covered wall of paper at Manatee High School are books.

Teacher Don Falls said he covered the bookshelves out of concern for a new Florida state law that requires all books in classroom libraries to be approved or vetted by a media specialist or librarian that is trained by the state.

“We were instructed last week that we essentially had three choices as far as our personal libraries that are in our classrooms. We could remove them and completely box them up. We could cover them up with paper or some sort of something. Or they could be entered into a database where the school district has all of the library books, and if the book was in the system, then it could remain on the shelf, open,” Falls said.

Falls, who is part of a lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron Desantis regarding his Stop Woke Act, said the new law has caused him and other teachers much fear and angst.

The school district said they never instructed teachers to shut down classroom libraries.

According to the school district, volunteers will be helping catalog books in classroom libraries.

If a book already has the green light, it can go right back on the shelf for students, but if it is not pre-approved, it must be vetted before a student can have access to it.

According to Florida’s Department of Education, the selection of library materials, which includes classroom libraries, must be “free of pornography and material prohibited under state statute, suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented, appropriate for the grade level and age group for which the materials are used and made available.”

Violations can result in a third-degree felony.

Manatee School Board Chair Chad Choate III said the school board is just trying to protect teachers.

During a school board meeting this week, Manatee County School officials acknowledged that they did not know how long it would take to verify all the books, but that in the meantime, students have access to books in their school’s main library.

The process has sparked confusion and high emotion.

“I would not suggest banning books. It’s a slippery slope. This is good literature with value. Please do not ban books!” parent Lacy Hollings said during the meeting.

During another school board meeting in Pinellas County, school officials confirmed they, too, are working to align policies with state requirements. School officials said a group of library media specialists reviewed 94 books over the summer.

While some parents praise what they call parents rights at work, others said they worry it is a slippery slope.

“Anytime you restrict access to information to knowledge, it’s censorship. I don’t think there’s any other way to categorize it,” Falls said.

School officials said more books may be removed as they continue the process and will err on the side of caution.

Another challenge school board members brought up was determining what is age appropriate and how to define that in vetting reading material.

The Florida Governor’s Office and Florida’s Department of Education have not yet responded to a request for comment.